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How to Remain Yourself and Survive in the Independent Scene
The tenth birthday of the puppet organization LOFT (Lutkarska organizacija koju fakat trebamo) is the right time to analyze the plays of this important and long-lasting art organization and its initiator, Morana Dolenc.
Morana Dolenc has been in puppetry since she was eight years old, that is, since 1990, when she became a member of the ZKM’s Puppetry Studio. There she joined the ensemble Facades (Fasade) and participated in some of its most important plays such as Clair-obscur, Hourglasses (Pješčani sati) and The Maiden’s Leap or a Spring in the Cul-de-sac (Djevin skok ili proljeće u slijepoj ulici). Later, she attended the famous L'Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières and then the Sorbonne. After graduating, she started to professionally create plays in France and Croatia, where in 2012 she founded LOFT.
The specific expression of the ensemble Facades and the distinctive poetics of Charleville greatly influenced the work of Morana Dolenc, which is especially noticeable in her departure from the classical drama structure towards the dramaturgy of the image and figure. In it, building upon the object theatre of Peter Wetzner, she moves away from the text, which is mostly neither the driving force behind her plays nor their main component. Instead, she focuses on visual and auditory layers and finds thematic motifs in strong personalities and situations and universal themes.
In the first phase, she primarily found inspiration in strong women, which is why Ludwig Bauer and Lidija Dujić called this phase a “female phase”. Her first independent play I Only Have Wings (Meni samo krila ostaju...) (2009) was inspired by the life and work of Frida Kahlo, and the first play produced by LOFT, Femme Fadal – the Dream About Amalia Rodrigues in the Images of the Shadow Theatre (2012), was inspired by the famous singer of fado. In the plays from the first phase, the emphasis is placed on the impact of puppetry in the upbringing of Morana Dolenc. They are constructed, shying away from cause-and-effect relationships, by merging stories and motifs into images that create a “step outline”, shaped by the meeting and harmony, not conflict, of music and visual elements. In I Only Have Wings, the foregrounded element was the visual layer inspired by Mexican folklore that created a Mexican auditory envelope around it, while in Femme Fadal the spirit of fado evoked the shadow theater. In the words of Morana Dolenc and the playwright Dean Trdak, “If music could be represented by an image, fado would be a space of play between light and shadows.” The immediacy of the artistic performance and puppetry act was the focus of the small puppetry form Palomitas (2010), which Morana Dolenc performed in the intimacy of living rooms. The play about poor lovers inspired by Paolo Coelho’s short story was shaped with the use of melancholic sepia tones, which dance and move to the rhythm of the candle and disappear with the breeze. Here too, the focus was on shadows and non-animated heads of dolls, which were brought to life by the flicker and impermanence of the candle.
In the second, current phase, Morana Dolenc focused on children’s audiences, and at the same time, the more classical form and the story as a theme and motif. Despite that turn, the text generally fails to push the other elements of the performance into the background, instead becoming an element of equivalent importance that is brought to the foreground when necessary. Such was the case in the award-winning play Pearl Diver (Ronilac bisera) (2012), based on Ludwig Bauer's picture book. However, here as well the text did not take over the play, but was responsible for the development of the plot, while the atmosphere, rhythm and characters were shaped by visual elements, that is, discreetly animated dolls whose passivity underlined the passivity of the island people, slowed down by the sun and the sea. So far, Dolenc has played the most with the animation of objects, masks and human bodies in the play produced by the Mala Scena, the Suffering of the Little Wolf (2017) , while the highlight of the current phase is her most awarded play, Wanda Lavanda (2017), performed at the City Puppet Theatre in Rijeka. This play has been reshaped around the picture book as its basis, which provided it with structural purity and the ability to play with its visual layer. In it, Dolenc and the author of puppets and set design, Luči Vidanović, created a very attractive and seductive world of colors and animated playful forms.
The play For a Reason (S razlogom) (2016), co-produced by LOFT and the Theatre Company Pinklec represents a meeting point between the first and second phases. This is a non-verbal play in which the focus is on a single seemingly ordinary life span. The story is presented by actors Mario Jakšić, Bruno Kontrec and Petar Atanasoski and their clear and humorous body movements and effective puppetry elements. The result is a play that communicates with children’s audiences by using understandable and attractive visual information, while adult viewers are met with humorous puppetry solutions that raise universal questions.
Morana Dolenc is a very productive puppeteer and a puppet director whose opus is constantly growing and developing. Therefore, this text does not provide a conclusive overview of her work, but rather of its initial stages. However, the stages in question show that her work represents an important present and future landmark in Croatian puppetry. Instead of opting for the safety of the ensemble, Dolenc chose a much harder, but freer path down independent waters, while insisting on her poetics. In the last few years, she started to inscribe her poetics in the “puppetry mainstream” by performing in various city puppet theaters, while by teaching students she ensured that her poetics remain a part of the future of puppetry in Croatia. We hope that in her continuing career she will have the opportunity to further develop her poetics and continue the research akin to the one conducted in the first phase, which is something that Croatian puppetry is sorely lacking, and Dolenc is at her best precisely when experimenting, researching and searching for new expressions and forms.
 From an interview with Morana Dolenc conducted on 1 June 2020.
 The program for the play Femme Fadal – Femme Fadal – the Dream About Amalia Rodrigues in the Images of the Shadow Theatre in: the Archive of Morana Dolenc.
 Produced by LOFT and the Children's Theatre Dubrava. Author of the text Ludwig Bauer, directed by Morana Dolenc and Sanja Milardović, music by Nenad Brkić, set and puppet design by Drago Dolenc, actors Morana Dolenc and Sanja Milardović. Data according to: https://kazalistedubrava.hr/ronilac-bisera/, accessed on 5 June 2020.
 Produced by the Mala Scena. Based on the picture book by Renato Baretić and Davor Šunk, directed by Morana Dolenc, authors of the text Renato Baretić and Bruno Margetić, playwright Bruno Margetić, composer Vlatko Panić, set design by Vesna Režić, costume design by Dubravka Skvrce, lighting design by Domagoj Klasić, visual design by Davor Šunk, actors Goran Guksić, Lucija Barišić and Šiško Horvat Majcan. Data according to: http://www.mala-scena.hr/home/predstave/muka-malog-vuka.aspx, accessed on 5 June 2020.
 the City Puppet Theatre in Rijeka. Author of the text Jelena Tondini, directed by Morana Dolenc, puppet and set design by Luči Vidanović, composers Anita Valo and Meri Jaman, lighting design by Sanjin Seršić, actors Petra Šarac, Zlatko Vicić and Andrea Špindel. Data according to: http://www.gkl-rijeka.hr/index.php/wanda-lavanda-2/, accessed on 5 June 2020.
 Produced by the Theatre Company Pinklec and LOFT. Directed by Morana Dolenc, music by Meri Jaman and Anita Valo, set design by Bruno Kontrec, rabbit puppet design by Jasmina Kosanović, set design by Davor Tkalec, drawings by Ivan Tomasović, costume design by Dunja Vuković and Patrik Dolenc, lighting design by Neven Taradi, actors Petar Atanasoski, Mario Jakšić and Bruno Kontrec. Data according to: https://kdpinklec.com/s-razlogom-premijera/, accessed on 5 June 2020.
This publication is written in the context of the project "European Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform"