The European String Puppetry and the Royal Theatre Peruchet
The text is based on the Proceedings of the Dhaatu International Puppet Festival held in Bangalore (India) on 1-4 January 2015; www.dhaatupuppettheater.com
The Royal Theatre Peruchet was founded in 1929 and is the first puppet theatre in Belgium for children. Since that time, it has been a real bastion of the string puppetry art. In 2014, we have celebrated 85 years of shows in Brussels (Belgium) and in Europe. Millions of spectators have enjoyed our string puppet shows. Our theatre has played not only in Belgium, but also in France, Italy or Switzerland, but unfortunately, never outside Europe as for example in India – albeit having an important well-wisher Ms Ranjana Pandey, the current president of UNIMA India. We have founded the string puppet tradition and created modernity of puppet theatre in Belgium. Theatre Royal du Peruchet is also known to have created the first Tintin puppets, presented in 1940 in our music-hall.
The origin of its name comes from a child of the founder Carlo Speder, and means “the theater of my dear loved father” (le théâtre de mon petit papa chéri). Technically speaking, two special devices for string puppets have been developed in the theater and are called devices Peruchet. The devices are named after two important directors and puppet creators – the first device “Peruchet Speder” and the second device “Peruchet Jageneau”. The second director Franz Jageneau built around 2000 string puppets and is one of the great string master puppeteers of the 20thcentury.
Museum and History of Puppetry
From 1938, the theatre has been offering to its visitors not only an opportunity to travel into the imaginary world of puppets during shows, but also a possibility to discover puppets from over the world in the international museum. The private collection Peruchet continues to enlarge even today and is one of the richest collections in Europe. During the visit of the museum, we can find a great variety of Asian schools (China, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Vietnam, Japan, Burma, Cambodia, Turkey) along with European schools (Greece, Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, France, UK, Bulgaria). Among the masterpieces of puppetry art presented in the International Puppet Museum, we can point out puppets from the Russian master Nina Efimova, puppets from Sergey Obrazstov (Russia), puppets from Max Jacob (Germany) and its world famous Hohnsteiner Handpuppenspiel, puppets from the Commedia dell’arte (more than 200 years old), puppets from the family Colla (Italy) and from the Italian string puppetry master Concordia, puppets from the French master Jacques Chesnais, puppets from the famous family Ferrari from Parma (Italy)… and of course from India, magnificent and old puppets including puppets from Karnataka (old Togalu Gombaï Atta), Tholu Bomalatta, from Andhra Pradesh, a glove puppet from Bihar, etc. (You can find a selection of some of our beautiful puppets in the book “Collections Peruchet”)
The European String Puppet tradition and our theatre
Starting from the legacy of the Kleinspiel (German tradition of little string puppets) and the table theatre (paper puppet theatre), we have built our link with the European string puppetry tradition through the research of the movement and translating imagination into the movement.
Movement and fascinating imaginary stories from fairy tales characterized the birth of the string puppet tradition in the 19th century in Europe. All modern European puppetry as well as the modern European string puppetry comes from the influence of the Italian Commedia dell’arte and from the Italian puppeteers of the 16th century. To talk about this Italian tradition, we refer to characters of this theatrical style. We talk about Arlechino (Venezia), Brighella (Bergamo), Dottore Balanzone (Bologna), Columbine and of course Pulcinella (Napoli). Technically, the rebirth of string puppetry tradition is correlated to the string industry at the end of the 18th century marking the era of industrialization. Before the beginning of the 19th century, string puppets existed, but were supported by rods in the head of a puppet. In the 19th century, the strings were produced thinner and thinner and more resistant.
It seems that in older Greek and Roman puppet theatre, the strings were rougher and there were no rods. The old Greeks spoke about this art as “neuropastikè”, the technique of pulling strings (etymologically of pulling nerves). This image still exists – the image of a man manipulated by some extra-natural forces and desires.
Another image of a string puppet considers the string puppet as a “dancer” in comparison with a glove puppet as a “comedian”. This image defines the string puppet rather as a “little man”, or representing the best option for a realistic way of showing a narrative in a scaled down dimension.
The combination of ballet and music are specific to our shows, as for example in the Nutcracker, Child Mozart, or the Four Seasons and even in fairy tales like the Child’s Elephant or the Three Little Pigs. The music and dance influence the narrative of our puppet shows. In the string puppetry, the two components of the movement/music and of the storytelling/narrative are complementing each other. The precision of the movement and the search of the movement for the movement complement the narrative and the storytelling.
If the dreamy world of shadow puppets is like the moon, and the direct and conscious world of glove puppets is like the sun, the string puppetry is like playing with lights between the moon and the sun. The string puppetry is not a realism of representation, but revelation of representation – revelation and reflection beyond representation! The tricks vanish and the play operates as a living fantasy.
The Peruchet theatre presents a repertoire of more than 40 shows based on the most exceptional classical as well as modern fairy tales from Europe (Grimm, Andersen, Hoffman, Kipling, Perrault, Daudet, Lafontaine…).
Living string puppet traditions in Europe but also around the world tell us that the tradition can be adapted to our times – to an ever changing modernity. This fantasy of dance and narrative, performed through the means of an object called a puppet or a marionette, which is in fact more than an object. Through the art of a director and players, it brings us something very subtle like the grace of an angel telling us about the sense of the Beauty and the Goodness, telling tales of wisdom for children and for people who have kept alive the child in their minds and hearts – and a child’s sense of curiosity, wonder and eagerness to discover a fantasy world within a slice of time from their daily lives – filling it with the energy and enthusiasm to go about the daily task of (re)creating life from our work.