Twist stretches the definition of a puppet. In his hands, common objects like window frames and countless rectangular panels of beautifully patterned and painted paper become puppets. He creates living collages. In Dogugaeshi, Twist builds upon a stage mechanism that commonly provides background for traditional Japanese puppet theater. The audience views a succession of intricately painted screens. Each pair of screens opens to reveal yet another pair. My favorite part of Dogugaeshi comes near the very end. Here, pairs of screens snap open in a very long and very rapid sequence. Twist draws the viewer speedily into his theatrical space. I felt like I had been taken miles away from my seat by the time we reached a pair of screens that opened to reveal a strip of very bright white light. That strip grew to become a full rectangle of light. As if that wasn't enough magic, I was stunned again when the puppeteers entered the scene. I knew that the final rectangle had to be small. After all, it was miles away. Nonetheless, I was shocked to see how in relationship to the puppeteers, it was minuscule. The puppeteers loomed so large. So, the screen had to be very, very, very small; or maybe, the puppetters are giants after all.
Lepage's revisiting of the painter character from his famous Dragon's Trilogy, after a twenty year absence, is also visually stunning and unique. Lepage, like Twist, provides us with gorgeous screens that open and close, come and go; and there is that same blue whirlwind in which the viewer feels caught. Given my interests in portraits and ideas about self and identity, especially the idea of a dialogical self, I would have to pick as my favorite moments in this piece those about and when the young Chinese painter snaps a photograph of herself with her iphone immediately after a phone conversation. She captures an image of herself at emotionally charged moments that she then transforms into large self portraits. We see these portraits as they hang in an exhibition that Lepage presents as one of his many extraordinary scenes on his two level stage. But there are so many more favorite moments. Lepage tells a simple story about three people: the middle age male painter who is now running a gallery in Shanghai, his long estranged wife who has come to China to adopt a child, and the young woman painter who is represented by the gallery owner and is his girlfriend. He tells their simple story by using very high tech stage mechanisms and setting it the midst of currently high stake geopolitical realities. While leaving the theatre, I overheard another audience member say, "It's banal, the story is banal." It don't think her word is right, given the importance of the big questions Lepage raises through his close look at three lives. I wish I could have quoted Lepage's own words to her:
My main preoccupation is what are we about right now ? With simple, everyday life stories,
there are hints of the big picture. How do you make that resound?
Words are never enough. For images and more words on Basil Twist, click here to visit his website, www.basiltwist.com. There is a great deal of information about Robert Lepage on the internet, click here for a site, http://lacaserne.net/index2.php/robertlepage/ that is a good place to start.