A wood-carved protagonist, enduring the brutality of war

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, June 16, 2024


A wood-carved protagonist, enduring the brutality of war
The puppeteers Faniswa Yisa and Roshina Ratnam with Michael K’s mother, Anna during a stage adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s novel “Life & Times of Michael K,” at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, Nov. 28, 2023. The show, about a man’s struggles during a fictional South African conflict, includes actors alongside a puppet version of Michael K. (Amir Hamja/The New York Times)

by Laura Collins-Hughes



NEW YORK, NY.- Midmorning on Tuesday at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, a puppet named Michael K had just grabbed a mug when director Lara Foot called a pause to the action onstage.

“Let’s stop here,” she said, and he did so instantly.

Still clasping the mug in his right hand, he gazed at her with black, glass-bead eyes like someone who had been taken by surprise. Even frozen midgesture, he was subtle, human, uncanny — a striking alchemy of art and imagination.

In “Life & Times of Michael K,” based on the 1983 novel of the same name by South African-born Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee, this puppet is the sinewy, carved-wood star, designed and created by Adrian Kohler of Handspring Puppet Co. At two-thirds the size of an average adult human, Michael is operated bunraku-style by a team of three puppeteers. Craig Leo, the show’s puppet master, is in charge of Michael’s head and right arm.

Manipulation is not the job, though. To Leo, it’s more a matter of following the puppet’s lead.

“There’s something strange that happens,” he said in an interview in the lobby of St. Ann’s, game to chat despite feeling under the weather. “You have these moments — and you kind of aim for them, and you hope that you can do it as much as possible — where he just comes alive. It’s when the synchronicity really clicks in between the three puppeteers, and then all of a sudden, you’re holding him, and he becomes incredibly light. And he’s suddenly almost moving on his own.”

Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning novel is set amid a fictional South African civil war, whose Kafkaesque landscape Michael navigates as he attempts to take his ailing mother, Anna, on the long journey from Cape Town back to the countryside she loved as a girl. The play opened Wednesday at St. Ann’s and runs through Dec. 23.

Foot, the artistic director of the Baxter Theater Centre at the University of Cape Town, adapted the novel in collaboration with Handspring. Kohler and Basil Jones, a fellow Handspring founder, directed the production’s puppetry. At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, the show impressed critics, with The New York Times calling it “stylish” and a “standout.”

“Puppets hold philosophy in them, and poetry,” Foot said in a separate interview. “Coetzee’s work, some of his work, lends itself to that because there’s a lot of thought-provoking narrative.”

Having long wanted to work with Handspring, she thought a puppet would be perfect to embody Coetzee’s Michael — a gardener whose cleft lip makes people think him inferior — as a kind of Everyman confronting existential questions.




“When I sent ‘Michael K’ to Basil and Adrian,” she said, “Adrian had already read it, and it was one of his favorite novels. We agreed that it would just be Michael, his mother, the children and the animals that would be puppets. And the rest of the world would be the context of the war.”

So the company also includes five actors. One of its four puppeteers, Leo, arrived in New York this week from Mexico. That was the terminus of his nearly three-month tour across North America with the giant child refugee puppet Little Amal, who along with the horses of “War Horse” — another show on Leo’s resume — is among Handspring’s most famous creations.

After stilt walking to operate Amal from the inside, unable to see what her face was doing, Leo was palpably pleased to be reunited with Michael, a puppet he has worked with on and off for more than two years, and one he could keep his eye on from the outside.

“If you look at his left side of his face and his right side of his face, there are different expressions,” he said. “He has kind of a tortured look on the one side; I don’t know how else to describe it. From the other side, he’s actually very beautiful. He’s a really handsome man. In the light, his expression changes all the time. It catches all those carved lines in the wood.”

Of the dozen-plus puppets in the play, there are four Michaels: a baby, glimpsed only briefly yet made, Foot said, with legs fully capable of kicking; a child; a miniature adult; and the main adult, with a head carved from Malaysian jelutong, legs of carbon fiber and ribs of Indonesian cane.

“The joints are very finely made,” Leo said. “It breaks fingers because they’re so delicate. We just glue them back on. But as a whole, the puppet has never broken.”

Which is lucky, because there is only one of him — no backup.

“I’ve thought about that often, actually,” Leo said. “Should we be locking him up at nights? It’s a work of art, you know.”

To him, Michael is also a magnet for empathy, as puppets are, generally — and a portal into the story in a way that a human actor would not be.

“He holds the pathos,” Leo said. “He holds it even when he’s hanging on his puppet rack.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










Today's News

December 2, 2023

'Southern/Modern': Rediscovering the radical art below the Mason-Dixon Line

Elliott Erwitt, whose photos are famous, and often funny, dies at 95

Dylan, Ramones, Beatles, and Doors among Marvels of Modern Music up for auction

Schoelkopf Gallery announces worldwide representation of The Thomas Hart Benton Trust

Exhibition at Galerie Bene Taschen celebrates iconic moments of boxing legends

Experience the art of Emily Kam Kngwarray at the National Gallery of Australia

A wood-carved protagonist, enduring the brutality of war

Explore the origins of the detective story at the Grolier Club

Gem Mint 10 Japanese Charizard card breathes fire into Heritage's Trading Card Games Auction

Larry Fink, whose photographs were 'Political, Not Polemical,' dies at 82

John Woo has seen a lot in Hollywood. He's finally back for more.

A vintage shop to the stars holds its own against new rivals

Visual artist Mark Bradford wins the 2024 Getty Prize

CheMoulding: Futuring - Part II opens in Mumbai

Art Nouveau reexamined by Kapwani Kiwanga's brand-new artwork at Bozar

Gallery Wendi Norris now representing Leo Marz

Uncirculated 1,000 Baht Presentation Proof set headlines Asian rarities in Heritage's World Paper Money Auction

When Henry Kissinger became an opera character

Artist reception and book signing at PDNB Gallery for Michael Kenna's 'Trees'

Michel Rein opens 'Isola (curated by Emmanuelle Indekeu)'

Holabird Western Americana Collections announces 'Christmas Chronicles Auction', live and online December 7-10

Springfield Art Museum announces three collection focus exhibitions

Public Art Fund announces leadership and board of directors appointments

Mick Herron has made a blockbuster career writing about foul-ups and has-beens

Crafting Nature: Jojo's Vision for a Sustainable Artistic Future

Renowned World Artists Who Shaped the Art Industry

The world's first gallery in a parking lot relies on young artists

Can Kratom Make You Mentally Stable?

Where to Buy CBD Oil in Canada?

How To Get THCA Flower Online?

CBD in the Arts: Exploring the Intersection of Creativity and Wellness

Introducing "Seraphina's Dream Adventure" - A Whimsical Tale of Dreams, Magic, and Kindness

Achieving Your Weight Loss Goals with Zenso

CapCut's Background Generator: Unleashing the Magic in Visual Storytelling




Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 



Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Attorneys
Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful