Passing the Glove
Last weekend at the Ko Festival of Performance, Shoshana Bass, daughter of master puppeteer Eric Bass, took possession of her father’s signature show and made it her own, interweaving it with autobiography and reflections on that most magical of performing arts. It is the first puppet show she remembers, one that was performed just for her by her parents, using the place settings on a restaurant tabletop: a battle of silverware ending with a spilled salt shaker.
The image of free-running salt, and later white sand, flows through When I Put on Your Glove. It’s a memory piece that expertly and movingly incorporates the four mini-fables from her father’s Autumn Portraits, a longstanding staple of the repertory at Sandglass Theater, the Putney, Vermont–based but internationally acclaimed puppet troupe founded by Shoshana’s parents.
The exquisite vignettes – mysterious, melancholy, ironic – are stitched together with memories of her childhood, often on the road with the Sandglass company – “a life of waiting,” she explains, when her closest companions were the puppets, since everyone else was a grown-up. Her reminiscences are accompanied by a small, almost embryonic wooden puppet, little more than a round head and bubble nose with a wisp of a dress. This stand-in for little Shoshana investigates her father’s much taller puppets, each of them suffused with lively detail – as are the stories themselves.
There is a funny/sad sequence in which a puppet tries in vain to repeat the puppeteer’s sleight-of-hand trick, a mythic folktale with echoes of Native American tradition, a parable of a mystic invoking his inner demon only to be effaced by it, and a witty portrait of an old Jewish shoemaker haggling with the angel of death. A fifth Autumn Portraits episode is represented by a film of Eric Bass’s performance of it, projected onto a shimmering cascade of sand.
Shoshana’s enactment of her inheritance is technically and artistically assured, a faithful replica that honors the original while placing the young performer’s own creative stamp on it. The show as a whole is a kind of coming-of-age, as the daughter comes into her own as an artist and as the father, rather than simply retiring the show and the handmade, love-made puppets, passes his glove to the next generation.
The generational theme continues at Ko’s venue on the Amherst College campus, with two cross-cultural movement-theater ensembles investigating themes of incarceration and “the school-to-prison pipeline.” This weekend, hip-hop dancer Sokeo Ros, a hit at last year’s festival, returns with the multigenerational Everett Company of Providence, Rhode Island, for The Freedom Project. That’s followed by Tenderness from the Performance Project’s First Generation ensemble of young artists representing six nationalities and performing in seven languages. Info and tickets at kofest.com.
Contact Chris Rohmann at firstname.lastname@example.org.