If the Andalusian dog howls, perhaps something is being born? Daria Ivanova-Hololobova about SOMETHING SOFTENS

I’m afraid to be trite, but perhaps, like all »Something Softens« viewers, I felt like I was transported into a strange camera obscura. Involuntarily Vladimir Nabokov and his novel of the same name came to mind, but I tried with all my might not to follow those associations, I wanted to perceive the performance without any background, in a good sense, as if it were a blank canvas. I was sure that in this performance this camera obscura is something bigger, a kind of guide to another world. Perhaps it is a portal. 

Photos: Laura Marleen Kreutz

A dark room, a lonely beam of light. The audience wanders through the semi-darkness of the hall. The feeling grows that we are transported back in time to the “magic lanterns” and home theatres of old Europe, but the industrial ambience behind the doors of the room and the modernity of the equipment in the “camera” remind us of the present day.

But the “camera obscura” is switched on, a circular white light spreads across the white canvas, a game of light and shadow has started, and with it his majesty, the imagination, has come.

The camera aperture and the diameter of the beam of light intervene in the semi-dance. They give birth to images, which transform and continuously move fluidly. And freeze frame. Not for everyone. The action continues. This freeze frame is for me. A short episode of the combination of shape and light brings me clearly back to the first shots of Luis Buñuel’s “An Andalusian Dog”. One second of synonymous mise-en-scene, and in front of me there is already a “textbook scene” from a surrealist silent movie. On the paper screen the scene of the moon and the cloud floating by and the cutting of the girl’s eye with the sharp blade came alive for me. It is amazing how this chain of memories is born from the two lines of light and shadow on the camera screen. And furthermore I cannot stop “see” the Bonuel’s moon here. And perhaps I can even hear an Andalusian dog howling for somebody… dead.

Movie Stills, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) by Luis Buñuel

But here a tiny lens enters the dance, it penetrates the huge circular glowing space of the screen and gives birth to a new sensation. For me the round shape on the screen is no longer a Buñuel’s moon, but a womb, a woman’s womb in which an embryo is growing, a life. The fetus is bathed in light (and still under the avant-garde influence of the Spanish director, I want to say poetically that it is bathed in poetry, the poetry of García Lorca at least). 

But the dot on the screen, which I saw as a growing embryo, takes on an outline, becomes “human”, and transforms into a … body. The camera obscura effect allows us to forget that there is a puppet behind the screen. Light and shadow “dissolve” its threads. And it floats, as if in defiance of all the laws of gravity. Heinrich von Kleist’s definition from his article “Concerning the Marionette Theatre” suggests anti-gravity. That is exactly what the puppet is like on the screen – beyond the law of gravity, beyond the physical canons.

Photo: Benoït Schupp

A bit of professional puppetry humor. In Ukraine, we often ask uninitiated people a riddle – which kind of puppet cannot be manipulated in Cosmos space. The correct answer – the marionette, because it needs gravity and the threads should be correctly positioned in space.

Renaud Herbin shows us that it is not, that the inverted reality of space is also possible in an earthly setting, in the industrial district of east Berlin, in the atmosphere of an old salon theatre.

The marionette meanwhile, exists in its co-ordinated, re-transformed reality absolutely organically. It grows and interacts, moves and switches with the puppeteer’s hand, with the hand of the Creator. This organic dance of the puppeteer with his creation, born here and now, in defiance of the laws of physics, using, as stated in the programme, “archaic light devices”, makes me think one unexpected thing that perhaps Buñuel was not quite right – when an Andalusian dog howls, not necessarily somebody dies, something can be… born. And something ethereal, cosmic, anti-gravity and Something Softens will be born. 

Photo: Benoït Schupp


Dr. Daria Ivanova-Hololobova is head of the Literary-Drama Department of Kyiv Academic Puppet Theatre and lecturer at Kyiv National Karpenko-Kary University of Theatre, Cinema and Television (assistant professor at the Department of Puppet Theatre Art). Apart from being a researcher she is also practicing puppeteer, director and manager. 

»Something Softens«
TJP Strasbourg, France

Concept, text, direction Renaud Herbin/ Puppetry Bruno Amnar/ Puppet making Hélène Barreau/ Music Sir Alice/ Research and construction Éric Fabacher, Anthony Latuner, Sophie Prietz/ Techniical management Mehdi Ameur, Thomas Fehr/ Technique Anthony Auberix/ Co-production with La Maison des Métallos Paris/ Guest performance with the kind support of the Institut français and the French Ministry of Culture.