EXCLUSIVE: Two decades ago, Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique helped transform American perceptions of puppetry from kids’ stuff to high art, a movement he shared with fellow avant-gardistes Julie Taymor, with Juan Darién, and Theodora Skipitiares, with Radiant City. Twist’s hydraulic take on the 1830 Berlioz masterpiece was set in a giant fish tank, in which five unseen puppeteers manipulated fabrics, feathers, fishing lures, flashlights, glitter, dyes, plastic, vinyl and bubbles of all shapes sizes, creating, depending on your perspective, either a dream-like world of imagination and surrealistic storytelling – or the ultimate stoner’s paradise.
Missed it? Fear not. Twenty years and many, many accolades – including most recently a MacArthur “Genius” grant – later, Twist and his seminal show will return in the coming season. This time it will be accompanied not by recorded music but with Franz Liszt’s piano transcription of the proto-psychedelic (and likely opium-induced) piece, to be performed by Christopher O’Riley, a soloist with most of the top American orchestras and host of National Public Radio’s “From the Top” program.
Performances will begin next March 29 prior to opening night on April 3 at the celebrated Greenwich Village performance space HERE, which has been Twist’s artistic home and is run by artistic and producing directors Kristin Marting and Kim Whitener, with Barbara Busackino, HERE’s co-founder and executive director of Twist’s company, Tandem Otter Productions. The booking is a centerpiece of HERE’s 25th anniversary season.
A native of San Francisco, Twist is a third generation puppeteer now living in NYC. His handiwork is in mindblowing evidence in the current Broadway production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (beware the Oompa-Loompas, who will haunt your dreams) as well as in Oh, Hello and The Addams Family. He collaborated Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel on The Long Christmas Ride Home, and his ballet without dancers, Rite of Spring, was performed at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. Through HERE’s Dream Music Puppetry Program, Twist also has trained a couple of generations of puppet masters, carrying the tradition and the art form forward to new audiences.