Part of Spoleto Festival USA. In the elegant and absorbing Dogugaeshi, Twist and his band of puppeteers ingeniously manipulate a series of painted screens to create a tiny yet marvelously expansive universe. With original contemporary music composed and performed by shamisen virtuoso Yumiko Tanaka, Dogugaeshi invites us to explore an ancient and nearly lost Japanese art form, observed and rendered in Twist’s inimitable style. (1 hr.)
WHAT IS IT? Dogugaeshi is a defunct form of puppetry originating in Japan that involved a system of slides that can be moved back and forth, up and down, and side to side. They can also be opened and closed, turned upside down, and so on. The effect is the illusion of three dimensionality that can’t be achieved with ordinary puppets. This performance by acclaimed puppeteer Basil Twist stars just one character, a nine-tailed silver fox with gold teeth. He plays host to a journey through the history of the art form.
WHY SEE IT? The fox came from a 30-second video clip of dogugaeshi that Twist saw some years ago down in the vaults of the Asia Society in New York City. The organization had commissioned Twist to create a new work for puppet theater based on any kind of ancient art form. After seeing the video and its silver-maned fox, which he calls “magnificent,” Twist chose dogugaeshi. But he’s not limited to old traditions. Twist uses some of the slides as if they were movie screens, projecting images, scenes, and colors onto them the way painters use brushes and paint. In 2007, Twist re-introduced dogugaeshi to its native Japan.
WHO SHOULD GO? If you’re a fan of puppets, theater, and music — and especially all three — you need to go. And you need to go if you remember Twist’s previous visit to Spoleto in 2005 when he put on a spectacular production of Respighi’s opera, Sleeping Beauty in the Woods. Another reason is that the sole musical accompaniment of Dogugaeshi is by a Japanese instrument called the shamisen, on which three strings are simutaneausly strummed and plucked. The result is a kind of transubstantiation in which empty space seems to take on shape, mass, and form. (John Stoehr)