In September, 2019, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes in Charleville-Mezieres, France. Here are some reviews.
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- Steve Capra
Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes
Every second year for ten days in September the small Renaissance city of Charleville-Mezieres in northeastern France hosts Festival mondial des theatres de marionettes - The World Festival of Puppetry. You don’t know what it means to be festive until you’ve come to this event! The town is filled with people of all ages - many senior folks, and always sober - enjoying the cornucopia of puppetry events spread out before them. It’s terrific, with shows, internships for children, workshops for puppeteers, street performers - everything a festival needs! The 2019 event was the 20th biannual, and I was lucky enough to be there with my critic’s notebook.
The opening event was Place des anges, a pageant presented in the beautiful old town square. Brightly lit acrobats - white angels - dropped white feathers on the crowd. Angelic indeed! It was marred only by the hyper-amplified base of techno-music or whatever it was.
Aside from the scheduled performances, the streets of this old city are full of indie puppeteers and other street performers. I saw one acrobat on a unicycle tossing around three rather imposing-looking daggers. And the visitor might one day notice a covey of gnomes on their way to work, walking two by two like nuns.
A puppeteer in the square
The city was dotted with exhibits - puppet displays nestled into corners or splayed in the town square. One called Killing Alice echoed Alice in Wonderland: an Alice doll remains still for two minutes and then turns her head to show the face of le bete imbedded in the back of her skull. Another was called Cabinet Stuchlas, its puppets running on miniature motors, ensconced in the city's lovely Gothic church. Another exhibit displayed stunning puppets from a production called Faust en l’isle designed by Theo Eggink, whose work had a huge influence on wood carving for puppetry.
The puppets were of all sorts, from simple finger puppets that fit on the puppeteer’s fingertips, to marionettes with complex joints, to human-size puppets that took three puppeteers to manage them. There were puppets of gods, puppets of animals, puppets of people - and some that referred to nothing beyond themselves.
This bewildering array of objects made me wonder what a puppet is. I was lucky enough to talk with Julie Postel of The International Institute National de la Marionette. She explained that a puppet is any non-human presence on stage. The puppet universe was clarified for me.
For the reviews, scroll down from the main page or click on the links below. - Steve Capra September 2019
Leyly & Majnun , produced by Baku Marionette Theatre (Azerbiajan) is an exquisite marionette opera written by Uzeyir Hajibeyli, one of the great Azerbaijani composers, and directed by Tarlan Gorchu. It sources Western and Eastern musical traditions. Its story is based on a narrative poem written by Muhammad Fuzuli in the 16th century, itself based on a legend centuries older. The story echoes Romeo and Juliette , an ageless tale. The small marionettes are gorgeous, elaborately designed by Tengiz Khalvashi. The music, recorded by two musicians and singers, is lovely and varied, including even something like a march, but most notably graced by a haunting solo female voice, nearly wailing in, I assume, Azerbaijani. The seven puppeteers, in black, are part of the presentation. They sometimes move with slow deliberacy. To call this production a show is to trivialize it - it’s a ritual . The screens upstage are beautiful as well, and the play ends with a projection of cu
Old Trout Puppet Workshop (Canada) treats us to a mostly wordless piece called Famous Puppet Death Scenes . It consists of perhaps 16 short, unrelated vignettes in a puppet proscenium, each about two minutes long and each depicting the oh-so-tragic death of a puppet. E.g.: - In a recurrent motif, a poor fellow at the opera is repeatedly pummeled by a huge fist, as much as he tries to avoid it; - An innocent boy is lured into a villain’s home by a lollipop - and eats the evil old man; - Puppets (puppets of what?) on a German game show have to choose the Ja door or Nein door - and either way, the ogre eats them; - In a crowning jewel, an old woman returns home to find her husband’s suicide, so she shoot her self; her son comes home and sees what's happened and then shoots himself; his son comes home and does the same; the old husband comes home and we see that it's all been a trick; the old lady comes to life and sees her living husband and shoots him, an
Photo: Charleville-Mezieres = La potion de reincarnation ( The Potion of Reincarnation ) is a brilliant puppet show from Jin Kwei Lo Puppetry Company (Taiwan), directed by Cheng Chiayin, presented in Chinese. It’s absolutely a masterstroke of puppetry. In Buddhist-Taoist mythology, a soul is reborn only after meeting Old Lady Meng and drinking from her cup of forgetfulness. In this play, a woman is reincarnated three times without finding happiness. The show begins with fingers as shadow puppets, and the sort of classical Chinese music that’s like the sound of nature. But mostly the puppets are small, delicate hand puppets elaborately dressed. The puppeteers dress them on stage with ritualistic, meticulous care. What’s more, there’s intermittent singing throughout. We can see that this is a ceremony . At one point, a puppeteer tosses a hand puppet and another catches it just by just placing his hand under the mitt as it falls. Some scenes are spooky, heavy with shado