Fantasque, the opening kick-off of Bard’s annual Summerscape extravaganza, at Sosnoff Theater is the delightful love-child of Comedia del Arte and the Theatre of the Absurd. As a precocious toddler, it witnessed the horrors, hypocrisy, and inanity of the First World War.
A puppet and dance ballet, Fantasque, developed and choreographed by John Heginbotham in conjunction with the puppetry of Amy Trompetter melds puppets and ballet dance to tell the story of humankind’s transformation from innocence to love to sub-zero evolution while smiling, cajoling, and joking its way into your heart through a pell-mell whirl of dancers and puppets that appear to be alive. Several years in the making, this is its world premiere.
The music for this magical creature arrives from late Rossini piano pieces and music composed by Ottornino Respighi for Sergei Diaghilev’s The Magic Toyshop (1919). A tableau of small scenes build slowly to gigantic climax engorged with irony and pathos. Story moves from the literal into the mystic allegorical. A playful, mischievous innocence that accompanies a savage critique of human nature lounges insouciantly at the curtain.
Lithe dancers spin like leaf-blown petals. Giant puppets acquire admirable grace. A pageant of color, movement, and proportion dazzle. Description remains inadequate: one must see, no experience, this creation in order to believe one’s own eyes, as one’s ear is seduced by engrossing, wayward melodies.
At what might be called the “crescendo,” pianist George Shevstov, who has played the keys with such immediacy and passion, abandons the piano to perform an exciting, suspenseful, and endearing Flamenco-style dance before a child-puppet. The climatic metamorphosis of a small, squeaking troupe of puppet rats appear to take over the world, but a graceful, gigantic white rat acts more lovingly than humankind itself in a scene that remains mesmerizing and deliciously astonishing.
While rooted in the sensibility of mime, a new language of theater appears as puppets appear to be more real than actors. This well-honed troupe is ready for a universal world tour beyond language, just over the border of sanity into wise enchantment.
Summerscape at Bard will focus on the culture, background, and music that made Giacomo Puccini the genius he was: Puccini and his World will run from August 5-14.
Next week puppets will continue to speak with eight performances of futurist puppet plays by Fortunato Depero: Demolishing Everything with Amazing Speed will begin its World Premiere on July 7 and run until July 17 at the Luma Theater.