World-famous puppeteer Basil Twist gives personality to a bundle of cloth and wood that keeps audiences enraptured until the curtain falls. For the next two months he will wield his magic on four local stages during the Twist Festival D.C. The enchantment begins with a performance of "Petrushka" for the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Youth and Family Series.
"In our high-tech world, something magical happens when we are confronted by puppets," Twist said. "My mother was a puppeteer, and I grew up with 'Sesame Street' and going backstage, so I knew what a powerful thing it is to be transported to another dimension by objects that seem to be alive. I'm always drawn to music, and when the Lincoln Center invited me to do a puppet program, I worked on it for two years.
"In 2001, we premiered 'Petrushka' there using Stravinsky's evocative score. I wanted to re-create the Ballets Russes production using the fantastic images in my head that convey the power and majesty of his music. [Vaslav] Nijinsky played Petrushka and danced pretending to be a puppet. In this, I wanted to show the puppets being dancers, the Ballerina moving like a superhuman being. It's a great score and a great story about puppets."
|» Where: Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre|
|» When: 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. March 16, 2 and 7 p.m. March 17 and 24, noon and 4 p.m. March 18 and 25, 10 a.m. March 21 and 22, 7 p.m. March 20, March 23|
|» Info: $22.50 to $50; 202-547-1122; shakespearetheatre.org.|
The background is a Russian carnival where three puppets, Petrushka, the Ballerina and the Moor, have human emotions. Petrushka, enslaved by the Moor, is in love with the Ballerina who fears him. Jealous of the Moor, Petrushka attacks him and is slain. Yet in death, his spirit continues to dance and to love.
"I built all three puppets and had wonderful craftsmen, including Mr. David [Kerns], who made incredible costumes for them," Twist said. "The Ballerina is totally gorgeous, more of a traditional idea of puppetry, a character with a face, eyes and legs. It's all about bringing an inanimate object to life.
"There are three puppeteers for each puppet. This is an adaptation of a Japanese form of puppetry that allows the head, the feet and all parts of the body to move realistically. A complex lighting system allows the puppeteers to be hidden. The stage is 14 feet with a proscenium bordered by a gold frame. The two grand pianos played by Russian pianists Julia and Irina Elkina sit in the front."
Following performances of "Petrushka" at Lansburgh Theatre, Twist will present Symphonie Fantastique at the University of Maryland, where he spent two months last year in a post named for puppeteer Jim Henson, a U.Md. graduate.