Report of Gustaf and his Ensemble for the year 2000.
1. Performances of GUSTAF AND HIS ENSEMBLE:
December: Three sold out performances at Wilhelma-Theatre in Stuttgart in the last days of 2000.
"Granny from Stuttgart" greeted the New Year.
September: Five sold out performances in New York at the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theatre. (Jim Henson created the Muppets and Sesame Street, both famous TV puppet series).
June: Two sold out performances in the series "Master of Puppetry" at the 18th World Puppetry Festival in Magdeburg, organized by UNIMA, the world organisation of puppeteers.
January: Performances in Taiwan, Kanton, Hongkong.
In the remaining months many performances in Germany, especially in and around Stuttgart,
regularily in Stadthalle Leonberg and in the first half of the year in Freies Musikzentrum Stuttgart.
Starting in the year 2000 GRANNY OF STUTTGART is invited by Werner Feißt and Kathrin Ruegg.to appear regularly on the TV show "Was die Großmutter noch wußte".
In February some scenes of Studio Roser will be shown on the TV program "Between the Lions", PBS Boston, USA:
November and December. Three workshops were offered in Stuttgart on "String puppetry: construction and performance of Rosers' Scarf Puppets" and "Paper Sculpture for making Masks and Puppet Heads" Instead of two workshops we gave three.
November: For two weeks basic lessons in string puppetry were given in Charleville-Mézières at the Ecole Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette: Exploration of movements of material, training with a ball on one string and simple string puppets, construction of Rosers' scarf puppets and a head-shoulder puppet or an animal string puppet. 17 students from France, South Africa, Brazil.
August: Two week courses at Rosers 5. International Summer Academy: "Technique meets Fantasy - Fantasy needs Technique" at the State University of Connecticut, Puppet Arts Program.
18 participants from USA, China, Brasilien, Kanada, Deutschland.
Teachers: Ingrid Höfer, Michael Mordo, Sebastian Roser, Prof. Albrecht Roser.
Roser' scarf puppet and a dance ensemble were constructed and set in scene in the first session. The second session focussed on the creation of characters, modelled on the characters of Volpone from the tradition of commedia dell`arte.
January: We gave workshops in Kanton for 60 members of the most notable puppet theatres of the People's Republic of China. Directors of 18 theatres had come to discuss future developments, and to organize a separate section within the UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionnette).
Workshops in Hongkong for 40 participants, organized by Simon Wong, the director of Ming Ri Theatre Company, responsible for our trip to China.
During the World Puppetry Festival in Magdeburg in "Poesie der Wandlungen"
June 22 - September 10 exhibits of Prof. Albrecht Roser and Sebastian Roser.
In "Faszination Figurentheater" Ehrenbreitstein, Koblenz, puppets of the TV production
"Robbi, Tobbi und das Fliewatüüt", September 16 - November 19.
50th Stage Anniversary of GUSTAF AND HIS ENSEMBLE
CLOWN GUSTAF, the director of the distinguished ENSEMBLE will celebrate his 50th year on stage in November 2001 - a phenomenon for both a string puppet personality and the world of puppetry.
REPORT ON OUR TRIP TO THE USA
AUGUST -- SEPTEMBER 2000
After our participation in the World Puppetry Festival in Magdeburg, Germany in June, we left for the US at the beginning of August.
GUSTAF AND HIS ENSEMBLE had been invited to perform during the first week in September at the Jim Henson International Festival of Puppet Theatre 2000 in New York, together with puppet theatre groups from all parts of the world. Jim Henson created the Muppets, and initiated Sesame Street, both famous TV series with puppets.
We presented five sold-out evening performances at the Public Theatre, with standing ovations. The day after the last performance, we flew back to Stuttgart, quite elated over the reception.
For the third time, Prof. Roser held his 5th International Summer Academy at the State University of Connecticut. He had been invited by Prof. Bart Roccoberton, director of the Puppet Arts Program at the U. of C. The experience of RoserÔs first engagement there in 1977 as guest artist-teacher, led to his efforts in establishing the Figurentheaterschule for puppeteers at the Conservatory for Music and the Dramatic Arts in Stuttgart in 1983.
Two seminars, at two levels were offered. Participants came from Japan, China, Brasil, Canada, USA and Germany.
The first session focussed on dramatic and pantomimic gesture, as well as rhythmic movements with simple string puppets. RoserÔ scarf-puppet and a dance-ensemble were constructed and set in scene.
The second session focussed on the creation of characters, using the character of Volpone from the tradition of the commedia dell`arte as theme. Prof. Roser was assisted by three instructors: Ingrid Hfer -- performing; Michael Mordo -- string puppet techniques, sculpture and painting; Sebastian Roser -- sculpture. Daily demonstrations explaining special techniques for string puppets from all points of view were given by Roser, as well as general discussions on subjects concerning our profession. Specific problems and their solutions were discussed individually. The string puppets were constructed as head-shoulder marionettes which allow a great variety of dramatic movements. The participants worked very intensively, often until midnight. The results were very interesting and imaginative. Final performances of both seminars were given, presenting scenes with balls, scarf-puppets, dance-ensembles and the fantastic Volpone string puppets.
We had the impression that the success of the Summer Academy, and the public attention which it received gave additional incentive toward the forthcoming expansion of the very limited quarters in which the Puppet Arts Program had been housed until now.
TRIP TO CHINA WITH GUSTAF AND HIS ENSEMBLE:
12 January --- 6 February 2000: Taiwan, Canton, Hong Kong
Actually, it was quite indescribable. Nevertheless, I'll attempt it. How else could we describe what we, in the course of our short four-week trip, experienced, saw, heard, smelled, worked, ate, drank, celebrated and communicated? It is just too much to keep to ourselves.
On the 12th of January, from Stuttgart, by way of Frankfurt, we flew east in an eleven hour flight with Lufthansa, which had been persuaded by the Goethe Institute in Hong Kong to provide free transportation for one passenger plus 80 kg luggage: Thanks to both organizations! None of our applications for subsidy in Stuttgart had met with success, neither from the city, nor the state, nor the federal government; so that we were not even sure that the trip would be possible.
The Chinese students who had participated twice in our International Summer Academy at the University of Connecticut, U.S.A. had given the impetus. Shortly after returning home with their Master of Fine Arts degree after completion of their four-year study of puppetry, they invited us to come to Taiwan/Taipei. Together with Simon Wong, director of the Ming Ri Theater in Hong Kong and Prof. Bart Roccoberton, head of the department at the Univ. of Connecticut., a travel, performance and workshop itinerary had been set up: official authorities had been informed and gained for this project, and financing had been obtained. Hong Kong and Canton in the People's Republic of China, as well as Taipei, Taiwan were our destinations.
An eleven-hour flight leaves time not only to enjoy flying, to sleep, to experience the fascination of sunrise or sunset, but also evokes thoughts on the movement of earth and plane, and the relationship of all human comprehension. Innumerable sensations occupy one's fantasy as, far below, a continent drifts past. A sense of apprehension in light of the immense expanse sends chills down one's spine -- the sensation of vastness experienced crossing the open landscape of Russia came to mind.
A group of the Chinese organizers met us at our stopover in the architecturally fantastic new airport of Hong Kong and cordially helped us change planes; and after a total of 25 hours, we landed on schedule in Taipei where we were welcomed by Jo Cheng, the youngest of the U.S. students. She had prepared a program for us which reflected her own vitality and efficiency. After one hour's rest in our university-affiliated hotel, Jo Cheng's family invited us to an evening meal. We enjoyed the hospitality in their home and the culinary delicacies of an exotic cuisine. China manifests itself especially in tea -- tea day and night; in every situation distinct; differing in colour and taste; tea offered abundantly, always and everywhere; invariably freshly brewed, and we soon became accustomed to the unique variety of flavour. Thousand variations of green tea.
Prof. Bart Roccoberton joined us at the Cheng home -- he was one of the initiators of the tour, and accompanied us during the entire trip. He is a China enthusiast of long- standing, feels at home there; seeks and cultivates contacts with Chinese puppet theaters. A "baroque" personality who, with sparkling eyes, goes to all lengths to further the cause for puppetry and, with his reliable, reserved manner is an ideal advocate between east and west.
During the course of our short week in Taiwan, we marvelled at Jo Cheng's fabulous organization, which was, however, also exhausting, as we still had to get used to the time and climate change on a different continent. Our agenda included: an official reception at the Council for Cultural Affairs and the National Center for Traditional Arts, tour of the famous Palace Museum, visit to the studios of our Taiwanese students. We took part in the lecture which Prof. Roccoberton gave at the university on the characteristics of American puppetry.
Of course, we visited again the Chinese Opera School which the director of the school and Father Parent, a Canadian Jesuit and our tour organizer at that time had shown us in 1974. They gave us a hearty welcome. Out of the simple buildings then, a university has developed. As in 1974, we were again very impressed by the excellent teaching methods in an unharried atmosphere.
As 26 years ago, we visited again the traditional Taiwanese puppet theater of the Li family -- now it is the son who upholds and passes on the family heritage. He performed excerpts with hand puppets for us -- scenes from the Chinese Opera -- ritualized, akrobatic and with astounding finger control whereby the puppets move forwards and backwards -- the character of the figure, its gender and age are revealed by the steps and gestures. This tradition has continued through generations and is being carried further on its own grounds with a museum, and with official recognition.
Following a very well organized press conference, at which the head of Goethe Institute, Mrs. Hagemann-Ünlüsoy, Kleist's text on marionette theater quoted, every newspaper brought articles and photos of GUSTAF AND HIS ENSEMBLE on their front pages; resulting in a sold-out performance to an audience of 400. Unfortunately, the desired effect of our performance was limited due to a noisy air-conditioning -- considering the mild "winter" weather and blooming flower beds, none of us had anticipated this possibility.
Jo Cheng would like very much to have the opportunity to bring her troupe to Stuttgart to work on a new production under Roser's direction -- probably a utopian dream, but it soothed our farewell.
On our way to Canton on Monday, 17 January, we stopped over again in Hong Kong, and were once again impressed by the brilliant design of the airport. Simon Wong, who took charge of our stay in Canton and Hong Kong, brought us to the Pacific Island Hotel. From the 28th floor we had a breath-taking view of this city bursting with vitality. Directly before us, the hustle and bustle in the harbour, the fleeting traffic and the skyscraper canyons -- a futuristic scene of dizzying tempo and noise. What a change since our first visit 30 years before. Several variously coloured glass skycrapers were completely surrounded with bamboo scaffolding -- to the uppermost heights the bamboo stalks were bound together with cords and secured with a bow to ensure speedy dismantling.
We encountered no problems crossing the border by train from Hong Kong to Canton, and thought back on our adventurous return from Peking and Canton to Hong Kong in 1980. Now there were lace curtains on the windows, food and drink were available on the train, and we could recall our Taiwanese encounters. Everywhere one saw a booming development. Skyscrapers shooting up like mushrooms, especially in Canton, our next destination. We were told that Canton and Shanghai were testing grounds for a capitalist economy -- both were considered to be wealthy cities.
Our quarters were in an old section of the city in which the grounds of the Cantonese puppet theater lies. Within a maze of numerous small houses reached only by footpaths, lie the buildings of the puppet theater grouped about a courtyard which is dominated by an enormous tree with innumerable aerial roots. A beautiful old Chinese building, a former temple, is used as storage, awaiting restoration. All activities of the week occurred in the rehearsal theater: a three-day workshop for ca. 40 puppeteers, a puppetry demonstration night, and two lively evening discussion sessions.
We were greeted with a resounding welcome in the small restaurant where we met with puppeteers who had gathered there for a reception dinner. We were the only foreign theater group there. Our acceptance had prompted Simon Wong, Hong Kong and Mr. Li, the director of the puppet theater in Canton to invite the most notable puppet theaters from all parts of the People's Republic to this meeting. Directors of 18 theaters had come to exchange opinions, to discuss future developments, and to found a separate section within the UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionnette).
The joint event with Chinese solo puppeteers in Canton and Hong Kong had been intended by the organizers to lead to discussions on the importance and future of puppet theater in China, in comparison with our opinions. We saw traditional rod-puppet scenes, and the famous ribbon dance, the origins of which go back 2000 years -- for us, an unfathomable continuity. Chinese puppetry -- performances with hand puppets, marionettes, rod puppets and shadow puppets have been moulded through the centuries by the Chinese Opera.
In order to strengthen the contact with the development of the marionette in the west, we lead workshops in which simple marionettes were constructed, performed and basic principles of construction explained. The workshop hours in Canton and Hong Kong were exhaustive, but also gratifying, due to the learning aptitude and eagerness of the participants, and their efficiency. 60 participants in Canton -- 40 in Hong Kong: two three-hour workshops with 20 participants, with two hours pause inbetween. After only a few hours, scenes with self-made simple marionettes had already materialized. Several impressed me very much.
We had a very lively contact with our hosts, in spite of the difficulty translating between three languages. In addition to giving a demonstration on the cutting of shadow puppets, the dramaturge of one of the Chinese theaters composed two poems for Ingrid Höfer and me which he recited and presented us in written form.
The outstanding highlight of the trip was the encounter with Mr. Yi-que Huang, the best and highly respected marionette puppeteer of China. It is a rare occasion to witness such an incomparable artistic skill in performance with marionettes. He began performing when he was 14 years old. His marionettes were set on fire and destroyed during the cultural revolution. Afterwards, he constructed his figures himself; and achieved a level of quality which can be compared with the best examples from museum collections. His puppets have an originality and vividness of high artistic quality, an amazing and rare accomplishment. From the illustrations in his book, I gathered that he had also added new developments beyond the traditional. His marionettes are moved by way of 30 strings held together on a simple piece of wood in the leading hand. Mr. Huang grabbed into the strings, held them tightly in a position like a "chord", thus producing certain movement sequences. While performing, he shortened or lengthened his hold of the strings, in order to create and play with new "chords". This method demands a high degree of dexterity with long hours of practice in order to master the movements of the marionette. His performance resembles that of a musician on a melodious string-instrument. Without using any "technical" equipment, he achieves results similar to what we achieve only through modern technique. I am looking forward to meeting him again at the UNIMA-World-Festival 2000 in Magdeburg and at the Jim Henson Festival in New York, to enjoy once again his inspiring performance. Unfortunately, he was not given an exit-permit for the event in Hong Kong, so GUSTAF AND HIS ENSEMBLE presented a second performance instead.
Prof. Bart Roccoberton, who lead the numerous discussions with Simon Wong, always began by saying: "we don't want to talk about who is best, we want to try to recognize the differences in presentation." We could hardly follow the discussion in English as the verbal exchanges were rapid and often heated. Quite obviously, taboo topics were brought up, prompted by our presence. These had to do with contact to the audience which must be attempted, and especially the relationship of Chinese puppet tradition to the present. The break in continuity due to the industrial revolution is glossed over either by holding firmly to tradition or by taking over "foreign" form and content.
Mr. Li's statement summed up one of the main points of the discussion: "The Chinese art form is unmistakable and unique. The new generation receives long years of training in high discipline, in sport and especially in technique, but artists do not result in this way. A new way must be found, so that the old culture, the old tradition is not lost. Only artists are able to bring this onto the right path."
Interesting comparisons were made between Roser's art form and the traditional contents and techniques of Mr. Huang's Chinese scenes.
"With his solo performance Mr. Huang has found the way to express and go beyond traditional content."
"Roser sets emotion in movement - Supernatural spirit."
"The meaning of the scenes goes beyond depiction, it expresses the essence of an idea."
"Roser plays at playing the piano-- sensation of art".
"Mr. Huang interprets realistic characters -- Roser plays out of the puppet,he does not imitate -- both are excellent in their own way."
"Twins who live on two different continents."
The method of marionette construction (according to F.H. Bross) which I have used and further developed since the beginning, will be added to the instruction courses in Hong Kong, which gives me great satisfaction. Simon Wong, who wants to expand his theater into an educational center and forum for puppeteers in Hong Kong , saw an indication for new incentives in the good proceedings of the "Puppetry Exchange of Puppeteers and Artists" in Canton and Hong Kong.
Beside the tight schedule with official duties, we were able to do a little sightseeing on our own -- within a few ,short hours. The cultural and artisan treasures of past and present from all parts of China is absolutely overpowering. We visited a collection with burial offerings from a 2000 year old royal grave, and a folk art museum which owed its survival during the cultural revolution to the fact that it housed the print shop for Mao's Red Book. We took part in a tea ceremony with our interpreter, and we enjoyed the tour of the harbour on an old ferry -- the shops, the 1000 temptations, foreign impressions.
We almost lost a feeling for the passing of time. Which day.?which hour.? -- we were caught up in the boundless stream of continuous activity. The year of the dragon began on the 5th and 6th of February. The whole city, all China had been making preparations for this celebration. Huge decorations representing the dragon in all shapes, even on the skyscrapers the dragon was depicted with lights -- 25 stories high. Hong Kong is a dragon -- beautiful, eccentric, rich, turbulent, unpredictable, mighty.
The conclusion of the trip is diverse. It takes time to cope with all the impressions. The feeling of embarking onto something new, the question in China "in which direction shall we go with our tradition", continue to occupy our thoughts. At the end of this report, I want to close with a thought expressed during one of the discussions and which is true not only for China: "when I want to move, I need ground to move upon, and two legs. When one lifts both legs at the same time, one falls down. One leg remains standing, that is the tradition; while the other takes one step forward. Both legs are necessary."
Albrecht Roser, Ingrid Höfer