Puppet Theatre Festival
Democratic Relations between Objects and Performers

Mette Ingvartsen, Dänemark: „The Artificial Nature Project“
Mette Ingvartsen, Dänemark: „The Artificial Nature Project“ | Photo (detail): Erich Malter © Internationales Figurentheater-Festival

The Erlangen, Nürnberg, Fürth, Schwabach International Puppet Theatre Festival is one of the most important meetings of contemporary puppet, image and object theatre in Europe.

The democratization of art was one of the major demands made by the avant-garde around 1900. Under this banner, the International Puppet Theatre Festival has joined together for over 30 years theatre forms that foster precisely the equal treatment of images, theatre texts, objects, materials and puppets. The exciting assortment of puppet theatre, image theatre and performance at the 2013 edition of the festival was again impressive. Emphasis was placed on performance by artists and groups such as Compagnie 111 with Aurélien Bory (France), Amit Drori (Israel, Switzerland), Nick Steur (Netherlands), Philippe Quesne (France), Annamateur & Außensaiter (Germany), Compagnie Beau Geste (France), Naoko Tanaka (Japan) and Need Company/ Grace Ellen Barkey (Belgium). Strong impressions were made by works by Mette Ingvartsen (Denmark), Eva Meyer-Keller (Germany), Nicola Unger und Yvette Coetzee (Germany), Miet Warlop (Belgium) and Pieter and Jakob Ampe (Belgium).

Fireworks from snippets

In Artificial Nature Project, Mette Ingvartsen drew the audience at the Markgrafen Theater into an ecstatic vortex of images by raining millions of tiny sparkling foil snippets from the flies for several minutes in diffuse twilight. The seven performers on the stage then arranged and formed magically glowing cascades, fountains and whimsical airy visions with the help of leaf blowers and their own hands. The delight that came in viewing this was very similar to the astonished animation felt looking at the sparkling New Year’s Eve sky. Quite by the way, Ingvartsen effected a fundamental reconciliation with the otherwise hated all-purpose weapon of the caretaker by showing how poetic leaf blowers can be.

Poetry of pragmatism

In Pulling Strings, Eva Meyer-Keller presented a project from the thick of theatre work. Fundamental theatre objects (mop bucket, transport and cable boxes, utensils from the theatre canteen) out of the everyday life of the Markgrafen Theater in Erlangen were drawn dangling on thin yellow ropes into acting life. Dusters lurched, glasses spilled red wine on the dance floor, drills and jigsaws bounced, pranced and jolted on cables. The performance was a fragile enterprise balanced between highly poetic images and sometimes banal impressions. But Meyer-Keller’s arranging, sorting and transforming was always exciting and made fruitful her artistic strategy of the pragmatic and direct treatment of objects.

Memory traces on the object

In her theatre project Unserdeutsch, Nicola Unger raised awareness of German colonial policy. The title refers to the creole language developed and maintained by three generations of German Polynesians. As teacher and narrator, the performer Yvette Coetzee worked on a blackboard with chalk and an interactive touch and projection screen with her fingers so as to bring home the moving as well as violent aspects of this cultural appropriation. As if on a miraculous Freudian pad, here the spoor of colonial policy was traced as the lines that have shaped human destinies and the loss of identity.

Theatre death of human objects

Miet Warlop and the brothers Piet and Jakob Ampe introduced the audience to a young Belgian artist and performers scene that fascinated by its anarchic playfulness and radical use of material. In Warlop’s play Springville, surreal human-object puppets (a table, a box and a fuse box with human legs) and an oversized cardboard house populated the otherwise empty stage. The actor-objects stumbled about touchingly, concerned to make the right appearance amidst the action, and had to die a puppet death, not without dramatically calling attention to the drawn-out deliquescence of their life materials by repeated sparking, giving off steam or dribbling water. The materials gave their all.

Building block principle

In their play Jake & Pete’s Big Reconciliation Attempt for the Disputes from the Past, Ampe and Ampe similarly relied on the anarchic power of the encounter between the body and materials. Their starting-point was wooden cubes, which were stacked on each other as in a building-block system. The two performers squeezed themselves again and again into grotesquely slanted building-block towers or disappeared completely in carefully piled-up walls. The basic mood between the brothers, but also between them and the materials, was marked by playful experimentation and a tendency to aggressive competition. This theme appeared initially at the level of brother to brother, but also admits of a political interpretation in terms of the “fratricidal fight” between Flemings and Walloons.