A technique used in shadow theatre where the showman’s entire body interacts with the lighting (it is separate from shadowgraphy or ombromanie (hand shadows), where only the hand intervenes). The imperatives of the genre are playing sideways (profile view) and having the performer be in between the light source and the screen with the audience facing the screen where the shadow of the body falls. The actors can use accessories in order to modify the appearance of their shadow. They can play with their size: the closer they get to the light source, their shadow grows larger, while as they approach the screen their images shrink. It is essential to use a constant, strong light source in order to obtain a perpetually clear shadow. Using several projectors multiplies the shadows and, if coloured gel are added, a romantic, fairy-tale effect can be obtained. Some choreographers of companies such as America’s Pilobulus, Taiwan’s Cloud Gate, and the Hungarian popular dance group Attraction have explored the aesthetics and scenographic interest of these body shadows by projecting the image of a dancer onto a screen either in front or at the back of the stage, using one or more light sources.
Body shadows were known in Spain in the first half of the 18th century, but one of the few written accounts is L’Heureuse Pêche (Happy Fishing), published in Paris in 1767. In this play, the magician Elamaliga gives a character the power to fly – a pantomime that lends itself well to the magic of shadow theatre. In his work, Correspondance littéraire (Literary Correspondence Vol. VII, 15 August 1770), the Baron de Grimm (1723-1807) referred to this show and noted: “After the French opera, I know of no spectacle more interesting for children; it lends itself to enchantments, marvels and the most terrible catastrophes. If you want, for example, the devil to kidnap someone, the actor playing the devil has only to jump over the candle placed behind and, on the canvas, he will appear to be flying through the air with him.” In the following century, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris scheduled comédies bouffes featuring body shadow theatre such as, for example, L’Homme à la fourchette (The Man with a Fork) in 1874.
The Théâtre de l’Ombrelle, founded in 1976 by Colette Blanchet, Florence de Andia and Sylvie-Valérie Masson, beautifully illustrate their skill using this technique. Mimed shadow theatre dramas are nearly always performed in profile. Finally, the modernity and innovation of the work by Nicole Mossoux from the Compagnie Mossoux-Bonte must be saluted. The artist sits facing forward, and her shadow is shown on a screen behind her, by a projector placed just in front of her feet as she brings to life fantastical forms. In Twin Houses and Light, she performs simultaneously with her face, which is violently lit up from a low-angle shot and with the material of her clothes creating her disproportionate shadow. Shadowlight theatre of Larry Reed has done extensive work in the United States, Mexico and Asia transforming the implications of body shadow into performances which combine myth, dance, traditional and modern music. Teatro Gioco Vita in Italy has done extensive work in modelling contemporary shadow practice.
- “Attraction Shadow Theatre Group (Britain’s Got Talent Semi Finals)”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHZSLeY8CWc. Accessed 29 June 2013.
- “Cloud Gate Theatre of Taiwan- Wind Shadows”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKxceoNGcL0. Accessed 29 June 2013.
- “Light by Mossoux-Bronte”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvMEvjq67Gk
- “Pilobulus”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqwTVwmVWnU. Accessed 29 June 2013.
- “Shadowlight Theatre”. http://www.shadowlight.org/slp/index.cfm. Accessed 29 June 2013.
- “ShadowLight: Intro to Shadow Theatre part 1 of 2”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZ91LEOv8k8 Accessed 29 June 2013.
- “Teatro Gioco Vita – Teatro Stabile di Innovazione SOGNO DI UNA NOTTE DI MEZZA ESTATE (promo) [Theatre of Innovations Midsummer’s Night Dream]”. http://vimeo.com/46745452. Accessed 29 June 2013.
- “Teatro Gioco Vita”. http://www.teatrogiocovita.it/laboratori-inglese.asp. Accessed 29 June 2013.
- “Théâtre de l’Ombrelle – L’éléphant dans le noir [Umbrella Theatre – Elephant in the Dark]”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywaQio9tUFY. Accessed 28 June 2013.