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Arts and Entertainment

Ancient Japanese puppetry in Wellin

By Meghan Doherty ’14

September 19, 2013

Dougaeshi is an ancient Japanese term that translates to “set change” and refers to a long-forgotten style of puppetry. Famed puppeteer Basil Twist came to Hamilton to perform his new piece, titled “Dougaeshi,” mastering these set changes with a series of sliding doors. The performance, which took place on Sept. 13 and 14 in Wellin Hall, kicked off the 25th anniversary season of Hamilton’s Performing Arts Series.

The show featured musical direction by Yumoko Tanaka, an experienced shamisen player and vocalist. Tanaka also accompanied the performance with live shamisen music. The music and additional sound effects set the mood and immersed the audience in the setting. Twist was one of four puppeteers performing the show, which also featured Kate Brehm, David Ojala and Jessica Scott.

“Dougaeshi” was commissioned by Japan Society in 2003. It premiered in 2004 at Japan Society for the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan treaty.

Twist arrived on campus last Monday to set up for his performance and to speak to a few of Hamilton’s theater classes. During his session with “Advanced Seminar in Performance,” he answered questions about the show and discussed his experience in the field of puppetry. He also demonstrated maneuvers with Stick Man, his first puppet. Stick Man is a fairly simple marionette, but Twist is able to give life and energy to puppet, making it seem incredibly life-like.

The show began with three white cloths being drawn back from alternate sides. The simple movement was done extremely deliberately, starting off slow and then accelerating, while an off-stage performer hit wood block to keep time. During the performance, a curious white fox scrambled around the stage, examining candles, fire and even the musician. The fox appeared to run and fly on its own, with no signs of the puppeteer controlling it.

The show took advantage of projection design, featuring a sampling of urban scenes. It also featured a video of Japanese women discussing the art of Dougaeshi.

One of the most striking aspects of the piece was its climax, when the entire set was destroyed. An elaborate room that had housed the sliding doors began to fall apart right before the audience members’ eyes. At the end of the performance, the set was reconstructed and the beauty of the doors was restored.

The performance featured a total of 88 sliding pieces. Each door had a style and personality that resonated in its design and movement. With his originality, Twist was able to bring something completely different to the Hamilton arts community and open doors to the world of puppetry.

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