Last night, at the Teatro Cervantes, in Guanajuato, Gto., Mexico, I had the extraordinary experience of watching three generations of puppeteers from one family–el Teatro de pájaros–present the “La flauta mágica (Magic Flute)” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder.
Heie Boles’s puppet story begins many years after the Second World War when, in her fifties, she mounted props and equipment on her old bicycle and puppet-staged Grimm’s fairy tales in the pedestrian areas of German cities. For children, it was often new material; for adults, a chance to re-live an important part of their childhood.
Last night, I caught a glimpse of her and Dan, sitting in the audience. She had already done her work (Concept, Text, and Direction) and now watched her daughter Ester Boles and two grandchildren, Antar Trejo and Danae Trejo– along with their colleague Artemio Rovinski–make the puppets moves in ways I could not begin to explain. The figures swooped and dipped and matched their gestures in the subtlest ways with the speech spoken through them. I know Ester, Antar, and Danae, but their spoken parts were so delightfully professional and animated that I did not think to try to recognize their individual voices. Heie sprinkled German exclamations here and there throughout Mozart’s perfect Spanish, to the laughter of German speakers in the audience.
Mozart’s music was live and played by the Capella Guanajuantensis, which included Djamilia Rovinskaia (Barock violin and viola), José Suárez (clavichord), and Antar and Danae’s father Cuauhtémoc Trejo (Barock transverse flute. Cuauhtémoc enjoys the distinction of being entrusted to play Emperor Maximilian’s surviving Claude Laurent glass flute)—three gentle and gifted musicians, who seemed to enjoy the puppets just as much as I did.
For me, it was all a play within a play, something like Russian dolls, with so much cross-cultural history, so much family history, so many layers of talent and dedication—the extraordinary thing that is a family, in all its parts and pieces, creating a work of art together, for the enjoyment of the larger community.
Again—and for this I thank the whole family—I began asking the old question: What is it about puppets? I thought again of Heinrich von Kleist’s essay “Über das Marionettentheater” (Regarding Puppet Theater, 1810) and the theory that human actors and dancers cannot achieve the grace of the puppet that responds to its center of gravity, or Schwerpunkt, in this case the central pole’s movements (managed by Ester, Danae, Antar, and Artemio)–to which the limbs respond. And, behind them all, Heie Boles.
To my mind, the whole performance had to do with Grace, a concept we don’t talk very much about anymore. I’m not even sure how to define this word, except that it has to do with a moment full of giving, modesty, great and understated talent, and gentleness, where the heart sighs as a child’s might and our lips form a smile.