Shadow Theater - Magic for Children and Adults
The Chinese say it originates from China, the Indonesians claim the same and people from Bali say it's theirs. But one thing is sure, the shadow theater has thousand year long tradition, and through the Silk Road it managed to get through Turkey and Greece to Western Europe, says Christophe Bastien-Thiry from the "Theater des Ombres" who performed at the "Little Cloud's Dream" festival for children at the Youth Cultural Center in Skopje.
Professional actor Bastien-Thiry, has been working with shadows, puppets and sounds for more than 25 years. He has become mentor to actress Magali Esteban, who is also passionate and amazed by the power of communication shadows present to both the children and the adults.
Magali Esteban and Christophe Bastien-Thiry. Photo: Facebook
At the beginning, the Theatre des Ombres from Toulouse, France, respected the traditional form of the shadow theater and its target audience were children and families. "The traditional shadow theater is very simple", Bastien-Thiry explains, "consisting of strings, puppets, a transparent screen through which the light can go through and a lamp."
"The traditional shadow theater came from East Asia, more than several thousands of years ago, and then through the commercial exchange, it came to Europe. In France it arrived in the 18th century, via Italy to Greece and Turkey. They used to present erotic plays. It was the Libertine period in France and the first shadow theater plays were staged at the Versailles.
Magali and Christophe say they use all sort of stories and literary backgrounds in the development of their plays.
"We invent stories or we adapt them, we either follow music or we follow famous fables. There is actually no limit when searching for the story," Magaly notes, enlisting Andersen, La Fontaine and many more.
Scene from the play of the Theatre des Ombres, "The Russian Dance" performed in Skopje at the "Little Cloud's Dream" festival. Photo: Theatre des Ombres
The play they performed in Skopje consisted of five different stories, from "Peter and the Wolf" to "Michael Jackson". It also included dance performances from different countries from Africa, Russia, and all around the world. It was an "interesting" experience for them, as Magali said, since they played without using the text which was written in French. "The children were so amazed and so into the play, it was wonderful!" she adds.
"What we are trying to do here, is to use different traditions, like using black puppets and the way the Chinese managed to manipulate the moves of the puppet, and tried to mix the expressiveness of the black puppets and the virtuosity of the Chinese. This is a very demanding technique as one puppet can have five sticks for moving. So we use all fingers," they explain.
In December they are really busy, but during the year they also perform abroad. They talk about Pakistan, Bali, Brazil, and now Macedonia.
"The show in Brazil took place in a very nice theater and the tickets were expensive. There were upper class people who spoke French so we could perform in our language. In Pakistan the people are poor but the tradition of puppet theater is very developed and is appreciated more than the classical theater, and they were glad to see the shadows, asking questions after the show. In Brazil, they just clapped and it was the first time shadows were performed," Christophe says.
The idea of a shadow theater in Macedonia dates back in 2005 and comes from Krume Stefanovski, one of the festival's organizers and one of the members of the "Shadows and Clouds" theater group.
"Saturated by the classic forms of theater, and with a strong desire to explore and experiment, I started working on the shadow theater," he says, adding that then nobody was staging shadow performances.
"Back in the days, there was the Karagoz Theater but nobody has been doing it since then. Those experiments led to the Little Cloud's Dream Festival," Stefanovski explains.
The organizers and participants of the children's festival "Little Cloud's Dream". Photo: Facebook
According to the "Shadows and Clouds" theater group, the need to host such festival is the fact that the "Little Cloud's Dream Festival" is the only children theater festival in the Macedonian capital.
It aims to develop this form of theater in the country, but also to present what other theater groups are doing, as each of them has their specific expression and uses a specific stage language. In that respect, this year's festival featured guests from France and Brazil, as well as a play produced by "Shadows and Clouds".
Cia Quase Cinema ("Almost Cinema") from Sao Paolo, Brazil, is working with shadows for ten years now, and they are still trying to find new ways of expression, according to Silvia Godoy, one of the troop's performers.
"We made a long journey discovering. At the beginning, we started with very simple means because we didn't have that much information on the shadow theater. During this process, we tried new different things, and what we are showing in Macedonia is our latest experience. We project shadows on buildings outside, but this time we'll perform indoors. What we do is revealed to the audience, they too can see how the shadows are made," Godoy says.
Unlike the Theatre des Ombres, the Brazilian version of the shadow theater is trying out contemporary methods of stage game, and is working on subjects that touch the young today, in the modern society.
"The shadow art is maybe 5,000 years old, but we want to talk about modern topics, like the Internet, so we find ways how to talk and present these things. The shadow art is like the Internet, you don't see who is behind the shadow, or on the other side of the computer. To work with shadows is like mixing many artistic expressions together, like cinema and fine arts, etc…" Renaldo Robles points, a member of the Cia Quase Cinema and a holder of a degree in anthropology.
Silvia has a long experience in performing arts and she is also a lighting designer, so their theater is a combination of fine arts, lights and visuals. Their performance in Skopje is about a Brazilian writer who comes from the countryside to the big city, looking for a job. In Brazil, the countryside is very poor and forgotten, they say.
"The people were compelled to go to the cities. They would leave their families, so the story is about leaving home full with hope, but getting to the big city with sort of changed identity, as his hope has diminished and he has had many adventures and misfortunes on the way," Silvia and Renaldo say.
A scene from "The Life of Severino", the play performed by Cia Quase Cinema. Photo: Viktor Popovski
They tour across the vast land of Brazil and usually set up their stage on the city streets.
"In Brazil, young people really enjoy it. In general, they don't have the habit to go the theater, but those who go, are people from the high society. So we decided to bring the shadow theater outside and show it to everyone," Robles says.
"That's what we like in our performances, they are staged outside and random people can come and see it. We work a lot with images that almost tell the story but the complete story has to be told by the audience itself. There are some words, a bit of text, but the interpretation is left to the audience. We think of the people as individuals. We believe the people need to interpret the story themselves, not like in the old times, when stories were told the same way, containing the same form," passionately they state their vision.
For the Cia Quase Cinema, the shadow theater also has an education value. Through the manner of performing they try to influence the young and the children to open their eyes and minds and become society members capable of critical thinking.
"When we work we always talk about the cinema and the moving images. How does it work, the construction of life in culture. It's like people inside the caves walking with a torch. As they move they enlighten the entrance of the cave seeing images, one by one, just like the moving images in the film captions. So the shadow theater gave as a way to go further and understand this culture of images and movement. And images are important for the education of children, whereas the shadow theater shows the way those images are created. They understand it's fantasy not a real event. And if they understand this at a young age, then they will become adults able to think critically. The shadow theater open people's eyes, the images we produce serve for that purpose. That's also why this type of theater is becoming more and more popular," Renaldo and Silvia explain.
The exhibition staged during the "Little Cloud's Dream" children festival. Photo: Radovan Vujovic
This year's festival also featured a two-day workshop, where children learnt how to make the puppets themselves and made a short film about it. An exhibition of photographs of current plays was also set up during the festival.
The Macedonian troop this year presented the multi-medial play "The Girl, The Dragon and the Black Clouds", which is their 8th production in total.
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