Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tales of Longing and Belonging

UPDATE, 11:00 pm: I would like to acknowledge the artists involved by name. Their spirited performances  really made the evening:

Rona Par (narrator); Deborah Dauda (dancer); Raul Cordona, Shamika Franklin,  Beth Peterson, Ezra Behnen, Alexis, Aida, Vince and Luis (puppeteers); and Severin Behnen, Julio Montero and Najite Agindotan (musicians).
Likewise, I neglected to mention how well organized and run this event was. The festival volunteers in particular were quite attentive, friendly, and on top of things. Kudos!
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Child-like wonder conveyed through a loving expression of art and puppetry filled the Elephant Stage's Lillian Theatre last night, as the colorful creations and talented performers of Beth Peterson's  One Grain of Sand Puppet Theater took the audience on a journey of longing and belonging.

The audience entered the theater to live music, courtesy of a trio of musicians: a percussionist playing what looked like clay bongo drums, an accordionist, and a guitarist. This magical musical overture, played in an improvisational style on folk instruments, was the perfect mood setter for what was to come.

The show began with "Traveling Colors: A Suitcase Show," a simply narrated toy theater tale of a grey boy in a grey world, and his journey through all the colors of nature. This dream-like first act was a captivating stream of consciousness, which drew us further into  the magic of the evening.

A brief musical interlude followed, featuring well crafted, large-scale coyote and moon puppets. Accompanied by the vocal talents of Julio Cesar Montero, Jr. (the guitarist in the trio), this segment served as a breather between the major acts of the evening.

"The Mysterious Case of the Missing Star Episode 3: The Nomad" began with  a prologue of three children looking for a star in Los Angeles. A series of humorous events brought them to Watts, where we were told the story of Sobato Rodia, the artist who created the Watts Towers.

This transitioned to the story of Dominique Moody, the titular nomad, an artist who overcame juvenile macular degeneration to create intricately crafted assemblage art. (Her first solo exhibition was at the Watts Towers Arts Center, thus connecting her story to that of Sobato Rodia.) Episodic, told through toy theater, mask work, shadow and large-scale puppetry, we were taken on an impressionistic survey of her life-story.

At times, the evening's presentation seemed to lake a certain showmanship polish. Little adjustments would make for a more enjoyable audience experience: cleaning up entrances and exits, cleaner movement of pieces on and off stage, consistent attire among the puppeteers. (If you're wearing blacks, wear blacks. Not black tennis shows with white soles or colored t-shirts.) But what these artists lacked in polish they more than made up for in heart.

At the end of the evening, the real life Dominique Moody was brought up on stage. It was an emotional, fourth-wall breaking moment: the recognition of the real, flesh-and-blood artist whose life story just played out before us. Beth Peterson then invited the audience to join the cast onstage and dance. In the end, Tales of Longing and Belonging was a celebration of life; an acknowledgement of our individual longing and universal belonging.

This show is well suited for children, and I encourage parents to seek out One Grain of Sand Puppet Theater.

LA Puppet Fest is going full tilt boogie through this tomorrow afternoon. There's still time to catch a show, panel discussion, or class. It all culminates in a veritable explosion of the puppetry arts at Skirball Cultural Center tomorrow. Visit the LA Puppet Fest website for details.

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