Compagnie Philippe Genty’s productions are the stuff that dreams are made of. And nightmares, especially the Freudian kind.
They combine puppetry, dance, optical illusions and mime to explore the unconscious and conscious worlds.
In La Fin des Terres (Land’s End), which opened at the National Theater last night, there are surrealistic landscapes, giant puppets with plastic baby faces, huge penises, a pair of legs that become scissor blades, a praying mantis with a human face, huge plastic bubbles that float like jellyfish, a King Kong-sized hand, several trap doors and lots of men in trench coats and fedoras.
The imagery comes from the mind of 71-year-old French artist/puppeteer/director Philippe Genty, in collaboration with his choreographer and wife Mary Underwood.
Genty trained to be a graphic designer, but got involved with puppetry because he found it easier to communicate through puppets than face-to-face. In 1961, he parlayed a grant from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to make a film about puppet troupes into a four-year-long globetrotting journey that allowed him to stage his own puppet shows. In 1968, he started the company, and Underwood, a classically trained dancer, was one of its original members.
While Genty no longer travels with his troupe, his productions still traverse the world. The company was last in Taiwan 16 years ago and was supposed to return in 1999, but the September earthquake that year scuppered the visit.
La Fin des Terres, which premiered in 2004, centers on a couple who meet because of a letter. Their meeting, parting and search for one another are played out in parallel tracks, one “real” and one “dream.”
WHAT: Compagnie Philippe Genty, La Fin des Terres
WHEN: Tonight and tomorrow at 7:45pm, Sunday at 2:30pm
WHERE: National Theater, Taipei City
ADMISSION: NT$600 to NT$2,500, available at the NTCH box office or www.artsticket.com.tw
As with other Genty works, there is no narrative flow to the 90-minute long La Fin des Terres; people, images and fantastic creatures appear and disappear like they do when we dream. Just as dreams allow our minds to fantasize and our most elemental fears to surface, Genty has a knack of creating scenes of unbelievable beauty as well as ones that can make his audiences squirm.
A sequence with scissor blades is guaranteed to leave most men feeling uncomfortable, while a human-faced bug — who dances a delicate, exquisite pas de deux with a young woman before wrapping her up in a web — is sure to give at least some female audience members nightmares.
The sexual imagery and references have led to the production being slapped with a “not suitable for children” label in several countries. The Compagnie Philippe Genty’s seven actors may excel at interacting with huge puppets, but this is no Muppets show.