Representatives from more than 80 countries participated, along with artists, journalists, delegates and other figures,at the opening of the 11th edition of the International Puppets Workshop of Matanzas (TITIM by its acronym in Spanish), as a result of an invitation to the meeting of the World Council of Unima (International Puppets Association by its acronym in Spanish) and had the pleasure to attend to the first performance of the US Sandglass Theater Company in Cuba.
Eric Bass, artistic director the company, who has tremendous skills for manipulating puppets, magnificently staged the piece Autumn Portraits, a theater play for adults, which was chosen for TITIM’s the official inauguration at the Velasco Movie Theater in the western province of Matanzas.
Since its creation in 1980 this individual piece has won several awards for the company in Australia and Hungary; an Excellence distinction by Unima; an Excellence Diploma by Pecs, Hungary; and the First Prize of the critics for best production in the International Puppet Festival in Adelaida, Australia.
Critics have described Bass as a great innovator within the art of puppetry. Since he was a student at the Middlebury College in Vermont, his teachers realized that he was very talented.
And for the first time he offered his art in Cuba, where just a few US citizens have had the possibility to exchange experiences with Cuban puppeteers. Bass is a skillful and charismatic puppeteer who managed to win the audience over. At the end of his performance he invited four spectators to share one of the most hilarious moments of the piece.
One of Bass’ four assistants turned out to be the Cuban culture vice minister, Fernando Rojas, who had the opportunity to take part in a sui generis orchestra directed by on or Bass’ puppets.
Autumn Portraits reinforces the worth of a millenary art that was initially addressed to adults and not to children as many people think and that even in Cuba it doesn’t get all the attention it should. As Bass pointed out, this piece brings together the Japanese technique (bunraku, which dates back to 1684) and the US Vaudeville technique.
It is a show of a single person, who sometimes wears a mask and gives live to several characters. Six scenes loaded with refined humor and ironywhose main character is a puppet. However, this piece is not just about humor, it is also about a portrait in sepia of the live of several characters, in the autumn of their existence, with their joy, sadness, their past and their present.
The title is a metaphor of that posthumous moment when thoughts become increasingly introspective, when we feel closer to old age and death. These topics are dealt with large doses of lyricism and poetry as in the portrait where a carpenter is trying to avoid death with slyness and craftiness.
The manufacture and finishing touches of these crafted stick puppets, which eventually resemble their puppeteer, are praiseworthy. Thus, the boundaries between puppets and their puppeteer fade away in the precision of their handling. The master knows exactly how to give the necessary gesture to each puppet.
At the end of the performance, maestro Rene Fernandez, President of Unima for Cuba and of the 11th International Puppets Workshop, presented Bass with a piece by prestigious designer ZenénCalero.
Sandglass participation at TITIM is the result of an invitation by Heather Henson and her company, IBEX Puppets –the heirs of US master puppeteer Jim Henson- one of the figures paid homage to during the theoretical event of the festival.
Thanks to Heather, who had to cancel her travel to Cuba in the last minute, Bass will offer a lecture at the theoretical event on his company and their 30-year work. He will perform at el EstudioTeatral in Santa Clara province on April 23.
According to the official website of the company, one of their most exciting projects is their current work with the SovannaPhum Company from Cambodia, on a popular story called La historiadelperro. The audience in Havana will have a single opportunity to enjoy his performance for adults on April 26 and 27, at the Raquel Revuelta Theater in Linea Street.
Sandglass Theater was founded in Munich, Germany, in 1982, by Eric Bass and Ines Zeller Bass. The company has been bestowed international awards in Europe, Australia and in the US.
Photo: Alain Montenegro
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