Wednesday, January 25, 2023

REVIEW: Basil Twist's Symphonie Fantastique Film Via The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

ChiIL Mama’s ChiIL Picks List

I was eager to see Basil Twist's Symphonie Fantastique Film, but woke up yesterday with a stomach bug. Fortunately I have some fabulous friends who were more than happy to review in my place. I'll be back out Puppet Festing this Thursday at The MCA, reviewing Macunaíma Gourmet by Pigmalião Escultura que Mexe (Brazil) for

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

ChiIL Live Shows/ ChiIL Mama 

by Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic 
Basil Twist is a New York-based puppeteer (born in Chicago!) who has made a film involving feather and fabric puppets in a 1,000 gallon tank of water. It’s set to one of my favorite pieces of music, Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Inspired by the serendipitous finds of locating a 100-gallon aquarium and a record of the symphony in a box on the street, one must admire his creativity. Making a movie/abstract puppet show based on found items from the sidewalk would never cross my mind. He found the title of the symphony and its length (just under an hour) to be perfect for his project. As Twist observed,”Even dropping fabric into water can be beautiful.”   
The piece has five movements with a storyline of an artist who is obsessed with a beautiful woman...that ends badly (spoiler!) with him facing the gallows. Basil Twist matched each movement with a color theme to mark the mood: the first section has many colors, followed by black and white with bits of red, section three features blues, four has oranges and greens. The final movement brings all the colors together.   

The music is a piano solo by the extremely talented Christopher O’Riley who plays the entire score (adapted by the brilliant composer Franz Liszt) from memory. 

The film shows the live action of the puppet show, the pianist, and some of the backstage movement which is like a well-planned ballet. Five puppeteers must navigate around each other in a choreographed dance. As Twist told the audience at the post-show discussion: “Puppetry is movement.” It would be fun to see this show live which includes a backstage tour of the (tsunami?) water mess. 

Upstairs on the 4th floor at the gorgeous Fine Arts Building is a puppet “pop up” of fun displays. We enjoyed getting our photo taken with a giant girl puppet in the cafe. It’s neat that Chicago hosts this worldwide event.

Catherine Hellmann teaches Psychology and Humanities at a downtown charter school where she is the ooooooldest teacher in the building. (Thank you, Abbott Elementary!) Rather than get a sensible night’s sleep, she’s usually at the theater on a school night…  


by Flo Mano, Guest Critic 

I was mesmerized by the movement & colors & texture! I saw Matisse in the first transparent cutouts! Then Dolphins & eels in a sensual, flirting, playful romance! When the music got intense -the red & black feathers felt like predators-sharks. When it was dark I saw outer space-stars- nebulas & comets! The sparkling broken waves like crystal gems! Then the inward  folding of the fabric like a sea urchin-no needles. The red squiggly fiber optics looked like jellyfish & the interwound, colorful tinsel felt like seaweed! The lighting was magic throughout-eliciting emotions to the music- like a tight Tango-not missing a beat! The Q&A was enlightening. It was also fun being silly at the cafe before the show.

Flo Mano is a CPS elementary teacher-aide/librarian, hairdresser, and theater/film fanatic who catches hundreds of Chicago shows annually. She volunteers at numerous film venues and theaters.

Symphonie Fantastique Film
A film by Basil Twist (U.S./New York)
Presented by the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival
Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
Tickets: $15/$10 students and seniors
One show only: Tuesday, January 24 at 6 p.m.
Family Friendly - ALL AGES
ADA accessible
55 minutes

In 1998, puppeteer Basil Twist debuted his boundary-breaking response to Berlioz's 1830 "Symphonie Fantastique" to universal acclaim. In the two decades since, Twist became an internationally recognized artist in opera, ballet, and on Broadway, winning countless awards including the illustrious MacArthur Fellowship.

In 2018 Twist revisited his legendary masterpiece in its original home, the HERE Arts Center in NYC with live accompaniment by the virtuosic Christopher O'Riley playing the exquisite Liszt transcription for concert piano and in a significantly larger aquarium. Symphonie played a critically lauded and sold-out six-month run, allowing the finest performances to be captured on film in front of, behind, and inside the 1,000-gallon water tank by Twist and director Bobby Sheehan. 

Soon after, while on a Rome Prize fellowship, Twist collaborated with master Italian film artisans to edit and refine the definitive filmed version of this iconic theatrical experience. The result, Twist’s first full-length film, is not just a document of a performance but an artistic expression in its own right, weaving imagery seen by the audience with the unseen backstage ballet of the puppeteers and the emotional synergy of the live musical performance. It received its world premiere at the 2019 World Puppetry Festival in Charleville Mézières, France, where Twist was the guest of honor. 

While Basil Twist's Symphonie Fantastique Film was a one and done showing for Chicago, Basil Twist's “Dogugaeshi,” is still coming up 

Basil Twist, the internationally acclaimed master puppeteer and recipient of the Rome Prize, unfolds an intimate, abstract, contemporary journey of images and emotions. A feast for the eyes, heart and soul, this Chicago premiere is influenced by “Dogugaeshi,” a rarefied tradition of Japanese sliding screen stage technique, and Twist’s own encounters with the remaining rural caretakers of this once popular art form. Winner of the 2005 Bessie Award and an UNIMA Award for Excellence in Puppetry, Dogugaeshi features original shamisen compositions created and performed live by authorized master musicians Yumiko Tanaka and Yoko Reikano Kimura.

Basil Twist, a third generation puppeteer, has significantly contributed to the art of puppetry since 1998, known worldwide for creating original abstract adult puppet works focused on their integration with music. His famous work Symphonie Fantastique, which takes place in a tank of water, is performed to the symphony of the same name. (A new film version is screening Tuesday, January 24 at 6 p.m. at the Studebaker Theater as part of this year’s festival.) n 2010, Twist created the puppetry for the Broadway productions of The Pee-wee Herman Show and The Addams Family. Other works include La Bella Dormente nel BoscoPetrushkaHansel and GretelMaster Peter's Puppet Show, the Araneidae ShowBehind the Lid, and Arias with a Twist. He has received national and regional recognition through numerous awards, including a Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, an Obie Award, a Creative Capital Award in the discipline of Performing Arts and a Guggenheim fellowship. He was a Fall 2015 MacArthur Fellow at the NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts. He attended Oberlin College and graduated from the École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières, France. He is founder and director of the Dream Music Puppetry Program at Here Arts Center in NYC. His newest project is leading the puppetry in the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of My Neighbor Totoro at the Barbican Theatre, London.

Dogugaeshi - Basil Twist

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