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Horse + Bamboo



Company Profile by Adam Bennett



The Coniston Institute, Cumbria - 3:45pm. It's day one of a five-day rural tour of Cumbria and Northumberland. A small enthusiastic bunch of Key Stage 1 children have just taken their shadow puppets home. I've told them that they must go home and convince their parents/carers that 7:30pm isn't too late to see a show on a Wednesday evening.

Earlier today I got a text message from Sian de Lier (Chandelier, geddit?) who earlier this year played a brilliant musical ringmaster in our touring freakshow circus Skin Deep Circus. She's with Horse and Bamboo on their latest tour - A Strange (and Unexpected) Event. They're in Southport tonight which isn't far from us in Preston and she thought we might be able to make it. Alas.
I can't wait to see it. My company Dynamic New Animation (DNA) has had quite a few opportunities since moving to Lancashire to go to the Horse and Bamboo centre in Rossendale, north of Manchester, and get to know the work and personnel of H & B. Having been a horse drawn company for many years, H & B is now based in a beautiful large building they have all to themselves. In this building they design, build and rehearse their own productions, invite puppetry companies to perform in their yearly 'Puppetsense' festival and build and install distinctive interactive performance installations for audiences of mixed abilities in small groups.

Horse and Bamboo creates visual theatre incorporating mask work, animated design, projection and puppetry. They've been going for 25 years and have amassed a large collection of masks, props and puppets. An Aladdin's cave of material which has been a treat to play with when we've worked there on R & D or leading and sometimes taking training and professional development courses.
The work that they create is uncompromising in terms of artistry and subject matter. The artistic directors Bob Frith and Alison Duddle create work to which they bring the passion of great artists - emotionally powerful, beautiful to look at, laced with humour and pathos that reaches out to audiences, and one more thing that is quite difficult to describe. It is a roughness, an absence of slick polish and finish in the design. A deliberate roughing of the edges which contrasts with the beautiful precision of the performance and the soundscoring. Watching and being involved in a Horse and Bamboo performance, we as the audience aren't allowed to forget that this is an event that is being hewed from the wood, metal, paper, cloth, paint and bodies of flesh and blood in front of our eyes. It brings the moment into focus for us.

Horse and Bamboo isn't a puppetry company, but it does use puppets. From what I've seen, puppets are mixed in for either stylistic or semiotic reasons, or both at the same time. Stylistically they are used for changes in scale. In 'Harvest of Ghosts', a large puppet ten feet tall was used to represent a grieving Nigerian mother who had just lost her baby. Semiotically, she was representing the powerless population of Africa who become victims in the corporate and governmental grapple over that continent's resources. In The Story of Charlotte Solomon, small scale puppets appearing out of the mask characters suitcases represented the sub-story of Charlottes travels around Europe with her parents. The suitcases were used as little set designs in themselves and the scene was portrayed with humour and joy which suited the style and contrasted with the setting of the rest of the play, which was about persecution during the second world war.

This is why I'm looking forward to seeing the new tour. It's a Mexican story and involves the day of the dead! What fantastic imagery to draw a production from. Horse and Bamboo's reputation has gone from strength to strength recently, with new international touring circuits developing quickly, and UK dates selling out, so I'm going to have to pull some strings to see it near me wherever I'm touring to.

Luckily I'm a puppeteer, so I know how to do that…
For further information on Horse+Bamboo see www.horseandbamboo.org
A review of their new show A Strange (and Unexpected) Event will appear in the next e-dition of Animations Online


 

 

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