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GOLEM

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Uploaded on Jan 8, 2012

The moving figures in Golem, a production of the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, range from miniature wooden marionettes (some of them made a century ago) to the lumbering, ominous title figure—a giant created out of clay—portrayed by Steven Ryan. Everyone and everything dances in this returning production, first seen in 1997—marionettes, puppeteers, moving cage-like set pieces on wheels, oven mitts that come alive as fish, and even some mops.

Photo by Jan Frank.

The smaller marionettes—beautifully detailed to convey a rich sense of character—portray the townspeople of the Prague ghetto, where the story unfolds. When three of them perform a vibrant wedding dance, the movement is animated and witty, extending between puppet and puppeteer. Larger marionettes—48 inches high—portray the central characters. These include the Rabbi—who fashions the lumbering giant from the clay by the river in an attempt to create a protector for his oppressed ghetto citizens—and his wife, and his two students.
With music by Frank London of the Klezmatics (which he performs on trumpet as part of the live five-person band), this Golem calls for dancer-puppeteers who perform their own disciplined movement while bringing the marionettes to complex life. "Everyone on the cast does everything," notes Naomi Goldberg Haas, the production's choreographer. "Some have more dance experience, while some have done more puppetry. And they also have to be able to act."
Vít Horej, who directs the CAMT, wrote and directed Golem, which was first performed at La Mama in 1997 and is being brought back as part of that venerable and groundbreaking theaters 50th anniversary season. Its success the first time around resulted in an invitation to be included in the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theatre the following year. La Mama was closed for renovations, so those 1998 performances—for which Haas joined the creative team—took place at Danspace at St. Mark's Church.
Now this Golem returns to the space where it first took shape, but with new cast members, and much refining and reshaping of its multiple elements. A recent rehearsal at the La Mama space on Great Jones Street found the musicians taking careful note of many specific details in the action, and Haas adapting the timing and counts to maximize dramatic impact, identifying moments where the performers' connection with the music needed to be altered or rethought. London's score includes wailing elemental klezmer melodies as well as more contemporary, atmospheric sections, as the drama veers form the celebratory to the mysterious to the dangerous.
Haas, who has worked often on theater productions (including The Dybbuk as adapted by Tony Kushner for the Public Theater), was pleasantly surprised at how much the marionettes could "do." "I expected Vit to be more protective of these puppets. But no, he's reckless with them I found out. He is very bold, in terms of how he thinks about the puppets. I saw that he'll let them do anything. So that was really fun, to be able to try things with them," she said after the rehearsal.
Haas had seen the 1997 production (for which Yoshiko Chuma did the choreography) and knew London from several earlier collaborations. "I was curious to see if they could extend the idea of the integration of the puppeteer and the dancer and the storyline. That was my interest—also in terms of how it could be integrated with the original set pieces, how the cages could actually move into the story, and also what other elements could be used. It always comes back to how is the story being told, and how can we use all the elements that we've got as tools to further the story."
Bonnie Sue Stein, whose GOH Productions has nurtured Golem and many other CAMT shows (the company is in residence at La Mama) and is co-producing these performances, said, "Vit is a trained puppeteer and director. He loves the idea that objects can have a life. Everything has a possibility of being manipulated into some kind of animation."
Golem

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