Sat, Jan 09, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Exhibition puts spotlight on puppeteers Li, Penso

By Yu Pei-ju and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

The Puppetry Art Center of Taipei on Wednesday opened a special exhibition titled “History of a Puppeteer” that features the apprentice-master relationship of French puppeteer Jean-Luc Penso and Taiwanese puppet master Li Tien-lu (李天祿).

Penso, who would later co-found Theatre du Petit Miroir with Catherine Larue, studied traditional Taiwanese puppetry under Li in a five-year apprenticeship, a transnational story of the performance arts that the exhibition highlights.

Penso said he met Li in a chance encounter in the 1970s at an antique shop near Taipei’s Longshan Temple.

Without recognizing Li, Penso “brazenly, cockily and quite possibly rudely” struck up a conversation with the stranger, inquiring whether he knew anything about puppetry.

Remarkably and without a hint of ego, Li put on a performance on the spot, demonstrating his “deeply enchanting” technique of movement and singing, Penso said, adding that it eventually dawned on him that the man was none other than Li, whom he greatly admired.

Li took no offense at Penso’s presumption and was quick to accept him as an apprentice, charging no tuition fees, Penso said.

However, Li had three conditions — there would no quitting, no disobedience and the pupil would try to raise awareness of traditional puppetry in the media and through his artistic endeavors, Penso said.

During the next five years, Penso received comprehensive drilling in puppet handling, stage walking and body language, he said, adding that since he was left-handed, puppet manipulation with the right hand — a point on which Li brooked no compromise — proved the most challenging aspect of his apprenticeship.

Upon graduating, Penso co-founded the Theatre du Petit Miroir, toured globally and made Li the first Taiwanese puppet master to perform in France in 1979 by inviting his mentor to Paris, he said.

Thereafter, Li’s I Wan Jan Puppet Theater frequently performed in France in cooperative projects with the Theatre du Petit Miroir, he added.

The exhibition is to run until March 27 at Songshan District’s (松山) Puppetry Art Center of Taipei, featuring Penso’s personal collection of puppets and photographs of Li, as well as other items from France.

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