The Teatro de Las Estaciones puppet company, founded in 1994 and led since that time by Rubén Darío Salazar, has an unmistakable style: well crafted scripts, magnificent stage design, excellent acting, and effective sound tracks.
Its universe is the art of puppetry, preserving traditions while assuming the latest experimental animation techniques. Works are always premiered in the company’s headquarters, Pepe Camejo Hall, in Matanzas, a city of rivers and bridges, some 100 kilometers from Havana.
With its marvelous performances, combining traditional puppets and live actors on the stage, the company has traveled to international puppet festivals in Spain, Italy, the United States, Mexico and France.
Their works, characterized by the best aesthetical taste, delicacy, tenderness, precision, and stage presence, are directed toward audiences of all ages, and accomplish the ultimate objective: communication with the public.
As if all this were not enough, for the Teatro de las Estaciones, research is fundamental, “First of our national patrimony, contemporary trends, new dramaturgical language, and relations with all the arts,” said Rubén Darío Salazar, in a brief dialogue in the gardens of Havana’s Llauradó Hall, to discuss the upcoming 12th International Puppet Workshop in Matanzas (April 19-24).
How would you describe the accomplishments of the workshop, over its 22-year history?
I believe that what the workshop has provided is an opportunity to share our experience, and to see what is being done around the world. Without this bridge which we have extended toward others, we would not have had the immense pleasure of having among us puppet masters from France, Mexico, Japan, India, or Brazil.
They come to Cuba and provide the opportunity to see the world of puppets, so that people see that puppetry is not just something simple and silly for children. It is an art with major scope.
This year, nine theater companies from abroad are visiting us: the Fernán Cardama (Argentina), the Danny & Dessy (Bulgaria), the Maria Baric (Finland), La Massue (France), La Maga (Costa Rica), Títeres Titerike (Chile), Conjuro Teatro and CREATI AC (Mexico), Y no había luz (Puerto Rico) and Guiñol La Roulette (Switzerland).
You chose puppetry and succeeded with puppetry…
I don’t know if we have succeeded with everything we have dreamed, but at least we have conquered a certain amount of respect, dignity, recognition for an art which has been around for a long time, which has been undervalued since it is little known, which has been underappreciated because of many people’s ignorance. If I were to tell you how many brilliant people have given us a beautiful look at puppetry, I could speak of Stravinsky with “Petrouchka”; “Coppelia” by Delibes; “Shakespeare vs Shaw”, by Bernard Shaw, for marionettes; “La pájara pinta” for puppets by Rafael Alberti; Prokofiev with “Peter and the Wolf”; even Tchaikovsky with a work like “The Nutcracker”, with figures and objects.
The 21st century is one of audiovisuals, computers, video games. How do you confront this challenge?
All the technological developments are giving figure theater strong, aggressive, competition, that’s why puppeteers, always crafty, must work wonders, stealing the attention of children and adults. It is a very disloyal competition, which has also brought changes to the spectacle - for example, projections, powerful technological artifacts, another pace, a dynamic which looks like the world of computers. One must be intelligent, knowing how this technology works to facilitate our own work, without losing its essence, its charm, or its magic.
There are many puppet companies around the island…
“It’s true, and there are 16 Cuban groups invited to the Workshop: Nacional de Guiñol, La Proa, La Salamandra, El Arca, Adalett y sus títeres, Compañía de Marionetas Hilos Magicos, La Isla Secreta (all from Havana), Los Cuenteros (Artemisa), Papalote, Las Estaciones, Mirón Cubano (all from Matanzas), Retablos (Cienfuegos), Los Pintores (Villa Clara), Tuyo (Las Tunas) and Andante (Granma).
You have dedicated this year’s Workshop to Pelusín del Monte’s 60th anniversary.
We have a 60-year heritage in Cuba, which is nothing compared to the Asian, Hindu, or European , but one which we must be proud of as our own. Pelusín is a 60-year-old boy, who continues to smile, just as he did when Dora Alonso imagined him and Pepe Camejo designed him. What other puppet in this country can boast of remaining active (this long) in literature and television repertory? He must be celebrated. By celebrating Pelusin, we are celebrating the very Cuban legacy of the Camejo family and the incredible Dora Alonso.
You have taken a step beyond the Workshop, a network of festivals for the region…
We have named it the International Puppet Festivals of the Americas (FINTLA) and it also offers the opportunity to ensure that groups performing in any country are taken advantage of, not overlooked in the region. We are going to have ties so that the Festivals maintain communication amongst themselves, and can help each other on the economic level, so that the marvelous performances they present are seen.
Let’s talk about the Teatro de las Estaciones in 2016…
In January we will premiere, and keep on the playbill, “Los dos príncipes”, by José Marti (based on a work by U.S. poet Helen Hunt Jackson.) It’s a presentation I call a romance between shadows and lights. For some time now, I have been looking for a show to do with shadows.
It’s not a technique you can use with just anything. Where do shadows come from? From the east, the legend says, as a consequence of a Chinese empress’s death. I would like to say that it is a technique that has to do with death, with specters, spirits, ghosts, and “Los dos príncipes” fits like a glove. To make it contemporary, we used the ‘prequel’ technique - I tell what happened with these two children in a respectful fable-like manner, why they die. We tell what happens before the two deaths, the shadows with lights, not shadows in the eastern way, but shadows throughout, in the wardrobe, the elements. Everything is light and shadows. We did it with baroque music, what a marvel for me to be able to introduce Cuban children to Albinoni, Corelli, Telermann. We added the original music by Cuban Reynaldo Montalvo for this staging, inspired by the baroque. The actors sing in four voices, hold a mass for the deceased, a requiem. Children must have access to al of these issues. Martí did it in 1881, in “La edad de oro”, with the poem of that same name. We do not need to limit ourselves in talking about absences, part of life’s vital cycle.
Later in the year, I want to bring back a script like the “La virgencita de bronce”, our puppet version of “Cecilia Valdés”, Norge Espinosa did a fabulous stage version for us. Then we’ll go on tour in Colombia, Brazil and the United States.
We must recall that the Teatro de las Estaciones won four prizes this year awarded by the New York Asociación de Cronistas de Espectáculos (ACE), dedicated to Latino theater in the United States.
Several years ago, in another conversation with Rubén Darío Salazar, I commented that his marvelous stagings and designs, all of his successes, had been achieved in Matanzas, with no boring provincialisms. He said to me, at that time, “I premiere in Matanzas like I would in Paris. That’s how I prepare our shows.”
Nothing had changed. The company has maintained its meticulous attention to detail and its recognizable style, remaining in the vanguard of figure theater in Cuba, offering audiences an encounter with the best of puppetry done in the world today, thanks to the now well-established International Puppetry Workshop in Matanzas, and a new dream, a continental network of festivals..
By Mireya Castañeda