“Rebetiko”, music and imagery to express exile and nostalgia

Scheduled for November 18 at the Théâtre Halle Roublot and November 22-30 at the Mouffetard – Théâtre de la Marionnette in Paris. Rebetiko by Anima Théâtre is a performance of puppets and holographic projections, a pearl of precision in imagery that carries a tale both personal and universal, intimate and political. A work with a strong cinematic accent that talks about nostalgia, exile, and the harshness of the journey for those who run away in solitude.

sight and hearing

It starts with a portrait. And with music. The portrait is a black-and-white photograph of a woman from another era, and one of the common themes of this play is that it manages to deliver bleak and coherent drama while remaining completely silent. Music Rebetiko is a popular Greek music described as “outlaw blues”, music with mainly oriental influences, about the life of exiles and outcasts in the slums. It is this music that is the soundtrack of the show, and Nicolo Terrasi attacks from the beginning.

Attention then shifts to a device not often seen: above the manipulation table, a one-way mirror inclined at 45° towards the audience, and behind it, a new manipulation area with a projection screen in the background. The set certainly allows for play “outside the castellet” – so to speak, if there is a castellet, it’s a really surprising kind of thing – but above all it allows for the projection of images. Some can be seen on screen in the background, but most are reflected in the glass, creating strange ethereal holographic effects that oddly match the atmosphere of the show.

Where manipulation meets projection

On the “hidden” manipulation side, the puppets are shown in a glass-dark theater effect, where the two manipulators wear dark clothes that make them disappear, including a black veil that hides their faces. This space is meant to represent a temporality, if not the present, at least close to the present. Inside, the puppets are among several planes on which images can come to life, in front of or behind them, a rare and sophisticated device, such as À tomorrow darling by the company De l’autre cote du citron. . This certainly allows for interesting depth effects, even if the puppeteers have to make the task more subtle. The background screen even allows for a bit of shadow theater: the latter then comes in to create an additional game plot between the image reflected in the background and the puppet being manipulated in front of the screen.

On the side of visual manipulation, puppets are brought to life in the space of the table, representing children mostly in exile, with all the abuses we can imagine, in a temporality that belongs to the past. Puppeteers then sometimes dress in costume and represent the adults surrounding the children, either from their own families or whom they meet on the road, often unfriendly. But sometimes, when the child is left alone, they hide behind the table and manipulate.

In this elaborate device, two puppeteers perform the work of jewelry. They are forced to move from one scale to another, move in and out, compose with videos or draw full attention, focusing on the tempo that touches with the musician. The rhythm is right, the handling is soft when needed, it’s all very fluid. It should not be an easy score to play, especially when there is no dialogue, the audience’s attention is focused on the puppets and the signals sent by their movements: no rapprochement is possible. Therefore, we must applaud the quality of the work done.

Image artistry, jewelry of visual composition

A feature of the device is that puppets playing in each of these two spaces can cross paths: indeed, those manipulated on the table in the foreground can also lie down and act out “horizontal” scenes, which the audience can then watch. their reflection in the glass then gives them a holographic effect and at the same height as those “behind”. Thus, dolls “from the castellet” can be described together with dolls “from the table”. We sometimes get a little lost between different locations, a confused eye not knowing where to rest for a moment, but eventually we understand the conventions of staging and quickly pick up the thread of the story – and the suspension of disbelief. accompanies.

This whole device, rather, may seem excessive and cumbersome, so he said. It is not: it often allows itself to be forgotten, because it is not a trick, but a multiplication of possibilities placed entirely at the service of history. Images in black and white – often films – often, if not always, resemble stock photos, which does not exclude the fact that they make a strong impression, for example, these boots of soldiers walking briskly and create a military allegory. dictatorship. The use of imagery is very rich: it can indicate context (a sample of a shot), decoration (e.g. an apartment window), movement (e.g. a subjective view of a journey through the forest). road).

Moreover, there is a certain artistry in the making of the images: for example, the waves of a rough sea can be presented using plastic film agitated by one of the puppeteers who come to mix with the images projected onto the table. Everything is very subtle. The variety of techniques used in volume or 2D, more or less craftsmanship, more or less regression, allows to obtain a rich and nuanced visual composition where different elements marry without clashing.

A detour from the intimate to the political, from the poetic

The subject matter has an intimate power that is revealed in the dramatic intensity of the images and situations. Greek-born director Yiorgos Karakantzas delicately describes the story of this boy who was thrown into exile and boarded a poor barrel hit by a storm at sea. these same routes are now occupied by migrants fleeing other persecutions, other wars, other troubles. The subject, without being overtly political, invites us to look at these past and present events from a sensitive angle. In any case, the show is badass: these Gavroche-faced youngsters, separated from their parents and trying to survive their trip, are certainly moving.

In processing these questions, the doll allows us to take an emotional and poetic distance. It’s emotional because the viewer can cling to the fact that this child character is ultimately an object that only comes to life when the violence against him becomes too much, when he loses his parents, comes close to drowning, or sells. people who seem to have helped him or who are chased by wild dogs… Poetic because the doll makes dreams possible and the impossible possible because the characters disappear to look better…

Throughout, Nicolo Terrasi’s accompaniment gives the music color throughout, alternating between very bluesy accents of overdriven electric guitar and compressed attacks that sound closer to traditional music. There aren’t many signs in the image itself that would allow the story to be tied to Greece – which helps make it universal. Therefore, for many, the universe of sound around Rebetiko is fascinating, indicating where this silent history can be located on the map of the wars and misfortunes of the world.

In general, Rebetiko is an elegantly constructed visual spectacle that stands out not only for the uniqueness of its device, but also for the clarity of its silent drama and the precision of its composed images – without compromising its poetic scale, on the contrary.


Director: Yiorgos Karakantzas
Author: Panayotis Evangelidis
Composer-musician: Niccolo Terrasi
Puppeteers: Irene Lentini and Magali Jacquot
Director: Nicolas Schintone
Construction of puppets and accessories: Demy Papada and Dimitris Stamou – Cie Merlin Puppet Theatre
Lighting design: Jean-Louis Floro
Video: Shemie Reut
Construction of the Lateran: Panos Ioannidis
Soundtrack: Katerina Duka, Voice; Christos Karypidis, Oud; Tassos Tsitsivakos, Bouzuki
Costumes: Stephanie Mestre
Structure construction: Sylvain Georget and Patrick Vindimian
Assistant: Mara Kyriakidou

Photo: © Hugues Cristianini

Posted in Art

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