Cycle of Life

12 11 2021

Crunch. Credits: Paisley Arts Centre

Author: Dovilė Jadzevičiūtė

During the Puppet Animation Scotland’s festival MANIPULATE, Scottish artist Sita Pieraccini and American sound director David Pollock presented the performance Crunch, which fascinates with extraordinary ideas in an ordinary plot. Sita is a performer and director who specializes in the areas of clownery, physical/visual theatre, and music. In her works, the artist combines forms of magical realism and poetic theatre. Musician and composer David expresses himself through organic nature’s sounds. By combining their creative energy, both artists present a fusion of sound and animated video, allowing the viewers to immerse themselves into the world of dreams and self-analysis.

This performance is an opportunity to look at the influence of loneliness and isolation on the mind. In our world, quite a number of individuals feel a great burden of loneliness and fear, search for new opportunities of self-realization, so that is when the cogwheels of imagination begin to turn. In the 8-minute Crunch performance, many of us can recognize themselves, standing in front of the mirror and thinking: who the hell is the one looking at me from the other side of the mirror? During the quarantine, theatres began uploading their performances to the virtual space where they had to face the challenge of not living up to the live theatre experience. In the case of puppet theatre, the quarantine restrictions are more favorable, because even when watching the performance live, the viewer's gaze turns to the screen, reminiscent of an electronic screen. Sita Pieraccini and David Pollock’s performance adapted to today’s screen-like performance reality, so their creation reminded of a short film.

Crunch is a hybrid form of puppet theatre, a performance that floats somewhere above the plot-oriented and experimental puppet theatre. In the performance, the sound arrangement shapes the narrative line and marks the endpoint. Soothing sounds allow to immerse into the dream motif, a dreamy state and are reminiscent of ASMR soundtracks used in social media. These soundtracks induce physical sensations caused by certain stimuli (whispers, slow, calm, or muffled voice, sounds of touch, crunches). By correlating with the on-screen action, the background of crunching turns movement into a mesmerizing element that gives life to the spectacle. The video montage in the Crunch creates an impression of watching a film. We see close up, medium, and full shots, which become the performance’s language that highlights objects: a close-up of a spruce cone, or, vice versa, the gaze is distanced in order to show a wider field of vision (a woman is using a wooden stick to turn spruce cones into birds). In the performance, the montage of accelerated frames is used as an artistic means, allowing to create the illusion of objects moving by themselves, thus reflecting the mystical plane of the performance (spruce cones that are dancing and rising to the sky, arms that are flapping like wings). These technical, artistic components of the performance are an excellent example of “screen” theatre that is capable of reconnecting with the viewer. This connection is recreated through the relationship of the actress and the viewer; it emerges in the narrative of the mystical story when viewers see the reflection of their own feelings in the feelings of the performer Sita Pieraccini, when they experience the performance’s compelling technical language that interlaces with acting, musical language, and the cycles of nature.

The performance has several recurring symbols. The first one is the spruce cone – a symbol of fertility and life. There are eight spruce cones, a number that symbolizes the concepts of creation, rebirth, eternity and cyclicality. In the performance, the bird becomes an image of freedom and improvement, while the earth symbolizes life and renewal. The leitmotif of Sita Pieraccini and David Pollock’s performance is reminiscent of a fairy tale, even a transformation ritual if you like. A woman collects eights spruce cones, turns them into birds until she rises into the air herself. Alas, not for long, because the tale’s imagery snaps, the woman turns into a spruce cone and falls down. To sum up, we have a person striving for a higher goal, a transcendent perception of the world, and, of course, a desire to know oneself. 

First of all, it is necessary to refine the definition of a spruce cone in the Crunch. We have already discussed its symbolic meaning but what is its verdict? Why is the person turning spruce cones into birds and why at the end of the performance the person’s transformation into a spruce cone seem so painful? So, after all, what does it really mean to be a spruce cone? In order to perceive it as a sign, first of all, let’s remember its purpose on this earth. It is the reproductive organ of trees and shrubs, the creator of life, a symbol of fertility and plenitude. A seed is a primary form of transformation, but in the performance, we are observing a dried-out spruce cone containing mature seeds, therefore, it can be considered an intermediate state for a return to the beginning. The woman collects dry spruce cones, carefully lays them down on the ground and then makes them grow by turning them into birds, while simultaneously maturing and turning into a bird herself. Self-education and freedom are embodied in the woman’s body, thus allowing to experience the untamed force of cyclicality and rebirth. As was mentioned before, the eight spruce cones symbolize eternity. So, in the performance, just like in life, the circle of life must make a full turn, while the person by turning into a bird returns into the primal state of the cone’s seed. It will be grown and created by someone else. The pain in the woman’s face while transforming into a spruce cone signifies the fear of starting a new stage of transformation. After all, starting from scratch is often more difficult, not to mention that there is not enough time to enjoy the result.

Cyclicality and the wish to be reborn in a grounded state in everyday life signals the need to test one’s strength and abilities before starting a new stage of life, therefore, from this point of view the performance is an opportunity to evaluate the tangibility of dreams and their ceiling. The creators raise the question of whether it is worth feeding oneself illusions and unreasonable desires, whether it is worth wanting the impossible, even if the collapse of goals is inevitable. The answer is yes. This is revealed by the actress’s face while in the air, reaching for the temporary dream. Her expression is ecstatic – the eyes radiate light and wonder, a never-before-experienced feeling that fills the body with air and covers the hands with feathers.  A barely noticeable smile appears on her lips – the fear of the fantasy being just a dream, a moment of joy. By employing various technical means, the woman is turned into a spruce cone. The next frame shows it laying on the ground. With this narrative, stylistic detail, the creators of the performance made it clear that the cycle of the cycle continues, one body turns into another. Although we can also see a paradox here, the actress turns into a spruce cone, even though thanks to her the other eight flew away like birds, leaving only the sounds of chirping to their creator.

In this case, the performance analyses the threat of giving away one’s time, energy, resources, spiritual fullness and moral background to the environment, without leaving anything to oneself and forgetting personal needs. The woman puts a lot of effort into carefully collecting the spruce cones, as if they were made of glass, and releasing them from their primal body by turning them into birds. Eight fliers are soaring in the skies, while the woman herself stays a spruce cone. So, what does it mean to give without getting anything back? What does it mean to sacrifice when there is nobody left to sacrifice for you?

The Crunch is compelling in its interpretive plane which provides a chance for every one of finding interesting and personal aspects in the performance. The way of presenting the performance is attractive to the modern viewer who anticipates persuasiveness and visuality. The creators Sita Pieraccini and David Pollock provided a series of solutions that would be otherwise mostly impossible in physical theatre but are very suitable for screen theatre.