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Flash Review 3, 6-3: Puppet People
A propos Marionettes, Dancers, Doubles, and Karine Saporta
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- On paper, Karine
Saporta's "A propos Andrei Roublev" sounds a dream: a "Spectacle
Danse Marionnettes" riffing on a Russian theme at the Cabaret Sauvage,
an enclosed theater in the round under a circus tent-style roof
on the banks of the Basin la Villette. The horse-riding academy
you pass just before reaching the grounds of the cabaret, the apertif
you sip overlooking the water before the show, and the subdued velvet
lighting that greets you as you sit at your table near the lip of
the stage put you in the mood to be immersed in a grand spectacle.
But try as Saporta and her five dancers and five 'acteurs de marionnettes'
do, the ideas the choreographer's head is apparently full of never
quite emerge into a cohesive narrative.
It's possible that one
of Saporta's themes is too creepy for me to receive. Doubles abound.
Dancers appear dressed, wigged, and masked to look like marionettes
we've already seen. Life-sized marionette replicants appear, "Invasion
of the Body Snatchers"-like, to shadow the dancers they exactly
Notwithstanding an effectively
disturbing passage where a dancer is tossed about by her life-sized
marionette double, what lacks is what is done with these doubles.
To more exactly match their doubles, the dancers maintain the same
facial expressions as the replicants. And marionette conventions
are disregarded, without clear justification. The live dancers handle
the normal-sized marionettes not like marionettes but like dolls,
artlessly swinging them around. The marionette actor/manipulators
disregard their hoods so that we can see the replicants they are
manipulating are spitting images of themselves. Ominous men with
over-sized baby-heads become less ominous when the women dancers
they seem to threaten don the baby-heads themselves.
The endeavor has the
aspect of an experiment in its beginning stages, with the choreographer
trying beaucoup ideas, but none fully developed. For example, my
companion liked when the marionettists inserted sticks into the
sleeves of the dancers and manipulated their arms. But the manipulations
were unimaginative and didn't go anywhere.
Contrast this with Jane
Comfort's 1996 "Three Bagatelles for the Righteous,"
a riff on the 1996 presidential elections. Here -- without sticks,
but with much more invention -- teams of dancers manipulate, Bunraku-style
(as the New York Times put it) other dancers portraying Bill Clinton
and Bob Dole, from their legs on up to their mouths. The manipulators
are of course the special interests. And in Comfort's 1998 "Underground
River," the four performers collectively portraying the conscience
of a woman in a coma create (in Basil Twist's conception) a paper
puppet that could be said to embody the sleeping patient. (Click
here to see a photograph.) In both cases, the device
was necessitated by the drama, not the other way around. From remarks
she made to me after the performance, Saporta seems to have some
concepts -- involving Byzantine icons, doubles, and the way Russians
typically wear their emotions on their sleeves -- but they didn't
cohere into one overall vision.
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