thematique

Bare Hand Puppetry

Country

A style of puppet manipulation using bare hands. The advances in philosophy and technique that had developed between World War I and World War II had been forgotten and puppetry had slipped into being a folk art and an entertainment for children. It was after World War II that puppeteers such as Georges Lafaye, Georges Tournaire, Harry Kramer, and Yves Joly began to spearhead a small revolution in the world of puppetry. In the cabarets and nightclubs of Paris – the real world laboratories for the development of new works – the philosophical leaders of the popular theatre movement (such as the road comedians and performers), invented, experimented, and defined a new, fundamental reflection on the social functions of theatre and puppetry.

A key artist in this movement was Yves Joly along with his team: his wife Hélène, Georges Tournaire, and Dominique Gimet, among others. What he proposed was radical. He advocated eliminating the “object-puppet” and instead working with the essence of puppetry – the hand. Using pure mime, the hand alone became the puppet. Working overhead in a puppet theatre, staged against black, Yves Joly’s hands would evoke an underwater scene, a drama of jealousy, or perhaps a naughty bathing scene. A true master of his art, he was awarded le prix Erasme (the Erasmus Prize) for his collective work.

Colette Monestier of Théâtre Sur le Fil (Theatre on a String) did not perform with a completely naked hand, but is of note nonetheless. With the most minimal of props, she created a work where the power of the performance still lay in the hand. Holding a strip of white paper to her wrist with a rubber band, she positioned her right hand, thumb and index finger in the shape of an outstretched beak and spread the remaining fingers of that hand above like a crest. With her left hand she took the free end of the paper, wrapping it around in a reverse “S” shape. As if by magic, a bird appears from nothing, which, in the words of Sergei Obraztsov, “is of great importance in all art”.