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Rita Feliciano reviews The Return of Ulysses, a collaboration between Pacific Operaworks, Stephen Stubbs' new Seattle-based opera company, and Handspring Puppet Company from South Africa, for danceviewtimes.

In the essay Kleist—or his alter ego, a dancer—argues that puppets move with a grace denied to the human dancer because they are not subject to the laws of gravity, and they lack self-awareness. The primary reason why this “Ulysses” became such an enchanting and deeply moving experience was because it so ingeniously employed puppets for which live singers—dressed in neutral contemporary clothes—provided the voices. When a human performer steps into a character—whether it’s done by a dancer, actor or singer—we always see the double vision of the person and persona. There is no person inside a puppet so the character comes across as unmediated and communicates in a direct and pure form that is impossible to achieve in any other way.

I saw this production, in which Monteverdi's score was cut to 1.75 hours and performed straight through, last Saturday at the Moore Theater in Seattle.

For the many who liked the use of bunkaru puppets in Anthony Minghella's production of "Madama Butterfly", recently shown live on the Met HD broadcasts, the approach for this production takes it one step further by having the singers control the arm and hand of the side of the puppet that was downstage. For the many who disliked the Minghella, feeling that the puppeteers were distractions and the "Trouble" puppet was disembodied from the singer, this collaboration solved that issue by having the singer be intrinsic to the puppets performance. Despite the presence of the puppeteers, the singers and the puppets and puppeteers became one.

In four days, I saw Theater Replacements "That Night Follows Day", aptly described on producer's On the Boards website as

Featuring a large cast of young actors ages 8 - 14 and a script written for adult audiences by Tim Etchells (director of the UK’s legendary Forced Entertainment), That Night Follows Day is a poignant, witty and unsettling examination of the many ways that adults use care, discipline and parenting to craft the worlds of children.

and "The Return of Ulysses", bookended by two performances of PNB's Broadway Festival

    Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue"
    Wheeldon's "Carousel (A Dance)"
    Stroman's "Take Five...More or Less"
    Robbins' "West Side Story Street"

What a remarkable weekend with such a wide range of theatrical approaches, each with such integrity to the material.

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