What is the Nature of an Immaculate World?

19 01 2023

About the World. Photo: D. Labutis

Author: Tjaša Breznik

About the World is a children's performance that breathes fresh air and looks into the distance, into the vast and expansive world that opens before us with all its sonic and visual attributes. The performance evokes the feeling of an open space into which we enter with open arms, ready to embrace all that it has to offer. It is a place that inspires confidence that we can learn from it and the inexhaustibility of its phenomena, and this will only be possible if we perceive the world around us as an offered, warm hand.

The atmosphere is positive and hopeful, and this is the ideal world for infants. The most important, initially scenic element of the performance (but not for long) is a huge piled-up carpet full of different colour textures and structures, interwoven in their common characteristic - tactile softness. The carpet comes to life in the performance, its parts becoming a hand, a snowball, a shelter for small fish. It is made of little hiding places: pockets and recesses from which the puppets sometimes peep out. It would be a sin if the makers of the show did not allow us to touch this tactile surface. The greatest joy for the audience is the good-natured invitation to play that comes at the end of the show. For the viewer in search of metaphors, the world becomes a playroom where only we humans, hardy explorers that we are, can have fun. For children, on the other hand, the show is a play in the "natural" world, showing the opposite of the world of man-made toys, which are often completely different from the basic reality given by nature and form (I exaggerate a little) an artificial universe of children's play. This time the approach to the image of the performance was sensible and decisively different. The animated puppets are shockingly interesting and unconventionally conceived. Only the bunny and fox puppets stand out with their more classic, conventional looks, and their originality is based on their ability to turn their skin colours into wintry undertones. The other forms of the puppets are "unseen", leaving a gap in interpretation that gives us a few more seconds before we can say with certainty what meaning corresponds to the image on offer. Allowing the eyes to be first strained by the visual idea and then the brain to reach for a categorisation is also a form of widening the 'space' in the performance, to use the example of the visual image of the puppets, where a wider range of associations emerges. This is evident in the 'aha moment' that focuses our attention and awakens our wonder at the use of the materials. The few seconds it takes us to recognise the object the animators are waving in front of us are not interrupted by text. The actors name it only after this crucial, albeit brief, but refreshing pause. Then they illuminate the animated object in the linguistic light of the articulation of the still largely ignorant children. There is little text, but it is placed at an appropriate point in the performance to support the young visitors' mental work of extracting the signifier (the content) from the sign (the puppet) as they watch the puppets. The children have some time to find the connection between the object and the word for it. When their memory fails, the word for the animated object is found at the right moment.

About the World. Photo: M. Frolova

If you are primarily analysing performances for children, you should also think about how the children are involved in the performance. Children long to touch and use the animated puppets that address them in the performance. In About the World, children are often involved in the puppetry in subtle ways. The various creatures that appear on stage address the audience after they have played their part. Sometimes they get stuck in the hands, other times the animators only allow a fleeting touch between the puppet and the audience. Then the puppets boldly blur the boundaries of intimate space and appear right in front of the children's eyes as if they could read their minds. But they do not stay there too long, because the essential merit of this performance is the completely unobtrusive opportunity for the children to join in if they wish. When one child shakes his head slightly and says, 'I do not want to', the fish has already moved on to the next one and eventually swims away into the vast ocean of air ahead. The children's interest in the animation objects grows as the show progresses, and by the third toy puppet offered, some are encouraged to take it themselves. Courage grows and attention does not seem to wane.

The world is divided into four seasons. The veils that cover them are lifted and we find ourselves in each of them. This thematic structure is somewhat predictable, but it chooses atypical creatures as signifiers (the cycles of the seasons): We are led into spring by a goose, not a titmouse or a bluebell. And we are dismissed from the play with hibernation, a lulling to sleep that leads us to the rearing of a young, a new creature. The play ends on a maternal note, reminding us that it is aimed primarily at children in the first years of life, who understand themselves primarily in relation to their mother, one of the people who usually opens up the world to them. The performance is therefore set in the warm embrace, the cosiness of the living room, on the soft carpet from which the animals of this world rise and descend. The choice of materials, the music, even the costumes and the rich morphology of the creatures are more eloquent than the handful of words sprinkled on, adding like spices the linguistic seasoning of a visual-tactile-audible (and sensual enough) entry into the natural, simple world presented theatrically. The image we see is primal and animalistic. The absence of human characters leaves the children to the story of the animal species.

About the World. Photo: L. Varanauskas

The premise of the utopian play, in which the makers avoid anything horrible or unpleasant in the world, is that the world the children enter must be comfortable, safe, and welcoming, which unintentionally makes it completely flawless. Such a world shows itself in its "natural" light, free from the hustle and bustle of the city and any human influence, which is indeed almost impossible nowadays. A prototype of such a world is created by the animators on stage after they have made us comfortable in front of the carpet. The real world, bathed in its own chaotic state, remains somewhere outside the performance, it does not enter its nest on stage. The world remains theirs, the world of a child - the world of the beginning. The world as we would have liked to see it when we first saw it, naked, abandoned and with the naked eye.

This publication is written in the context of the project "European Contemporary Puppetry Critical Platform"