The work of Cannes’ internationally renowned Compagnie Arketal is at the centre of a lovely and insightful exhibition. It shows that marionettes are both a theatrical art and a craft.
Since 1990, Cannes has been home to one of the world’s finest puppet theatre companies, Arketal. A current exhibition, aptly named “De la main à l’Humain” (freely translated: “From the puppet to the master”), lets you peek behind the curtain to learn more the fascinating art and craft of making and manipulating marionettes.
At Cannes’ Espace Miramar through March 13th , Arketal presents 200 puppets from 20 shows, all handmade and unique characters. Designed by renowned scenographer Antoine Oriola as a time travel through 30 years of creative history, the attractive and sober setting just focuses on the essential: A world parallel to ours is waiting to be explored, populated with figures made of wood, stone, paper, and bamboo that are both so different from humans and yet so similar. The chosen themes evoke social topics: identity, memory, exile, family and the human being. The exhibition also gives a sneak peek into an atelier, introducing the visitor to puppeteers, actors, authors, musicians, set designers, painters, and visual artists.
“The puppet is our means of expression, just as others use brush, clay or pen.”
— Compagnie Arketal
It is sometimes said that puppets are “children’s theatre for grown-ups”. For kids, they are pure fun, and often a playful introduction to stage theatre. Adults intuitively get the deeper meaning: They represent the symbiotic but not always harmonious relationship between a “master” who pulls the strings, and the puppet who is supposed to obey the commands from the other end. Sometimes puppets have a mind of their own though, forgetting that their “life” depends on the operator… As the American philosopher Sam Harris said, “A puppet is free as long as he loves his string.”
This is often reflected in Arketal’s plays. Its 28 creations to date are geared to children, teenagers, and adults alike, often tackling literary masterpieces in a playful way: Sophocles’ Antigone, Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Zweig’s Legend of the Third Dove, or Giono’s L’Homme qui plantait des arbres, to name but a few. Beyond French theatres and festivals, the shows have been presented across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Closer to home, in Cannes, Arketal also runs a research and training centre for building and operating marionettes, open to arts professional and amateurs alike. Its mission is to transmit techniques of construction, acting, scenography and writing, but also to pool knowledge and share experience.
Arketal has conquered a firm place in Cannes’ cultural fabric thanks to its dedicated co-founders Greta Bruggeman and Sylvie Osman, both trained at the highly regarded Institut International de la Marionnette. Greta is usually the creator of the protagonists on stage, for which Sylvie as the artistic director sets the scene.
Both are talented arts professionals as much as passionate educators, pouring their heart blood into each of their creations. Working closely with plastic artists who like them understand the importance of the minutest details, they are on an eternal quest for the perfect shapes, materials and colours to give the puppets original and strong personalities. Each play is a veritable research lab in which several artistic disciplines interlace… an incessant back and forth between text, research, set design, and the characters, which little by little leads to the final form of the show.
“The puppet is an instrument, a materialized body, a moving body, a speaking body, a breathing body, a thought, a path to be shared with the animator. Text, puppet, movement – everything participates in the service of imagination. It is a journey that makes us more lucid about the world we live in.”
– Compagnie Arketal
rue Pasteur (at the corner of La Croisette)
Tel : + 33 (0)4 97 06 44 90
Open daily 10am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 6 pm
Free entry. Vaccination pass and mask mandatory
All photos courtesy Compagnie Arketal; lead image © Brigitte Pougeoise