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Theatre Review (LA): Petrushka by Stravinsky and Basil Twist at the Broad Stage

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Getting to see an original genius at work may only be an once-in-a-lifetime event but I was fortunate to get to see the work of extraordinary puppeteer and artist Basil Twist twice in one year. First I saw Twist in collaboration with drag artist and performance artist Joey Arias earlier this year at Redcat. Twist and Arias created a magical world and came up with a strange yet wonderful tale in which to showcase the artistry of each performer. Now I have seen Twist collaborate with a composer, long dead, whose work Petrushka has been a staple in ballet companies around the world. Again it was magical.

The evening began with a ten-minute piece by Stravinsky called Sonata for Two Pianos. This piece was composed in the latter years of Stravinsky’s life, which he spent in Los Angeles. It is a fitting tribute to this Angelino, who wrote this sonata in the traditional three movements and strict form of the classical European model. However, Stravinsky incorporates a gentle Russian-style melody in the third movement. The piece serves as a link between the music he had composed in Switzerland and France and the earlier Ballets he had composed for the Ballet Russes and Diaghilev. It was played with great precision and clarity by pianists Julia and Irina Elkina. Accompanying the music was a simple presentation designed by Twist of various geometric forms moving about the stage to form other patterns. Like the music, it was direct and simple and displayed how talent can shape mere forms into a ballet.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, again as a ballet, but as conceived in the brain of Basil Twist. Twist has a company of six puppeteers who bring his creations to life. Especially impressive were the three women who gave life to the ballerina of the story. Twist’s puppeteers for the most part have been with him for years, and come from a background of theatre and dance. They are artists in their own right. This short but inspiring evening played for six performances at the magnificent new Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

About Robert Machray