Argentine puppeteer. Poet, storyteller and playwright, considered one of the pioneers of children’s literature in Argentina, Javier Villafañe is probably the most famous puppeteer in Spanish-speaking countries.
He was attracted to the world of puppets when he discovered, in the late 1920s, the puppets of Sebastían Terranova and his wife Carolina Ligotti, descendants of an old Italian family of puppeteers, then established with their famous Teatro San Carlino in the La Boca neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. In 1929, Javier Villafañe wrote a draft for Don Juan Farolero, his first work for puppets, written in a style inspired by esperpentos (grotesque farces) of Ramón María del Valle Inclán. In 1933, Villafañe created his iconic puppet, Maese Trotamundos. In 1934, he met Federico García Lorca and attended the famous presentation of El retablillo de Don Cristóbal (The Puppet Play of Don Cristóbal) at the Teatro Avenida in Buenos Aires.
The following year, Javier Villafañe wrote several works and set across the country with no particular goal with his cart, La Andariega (The Rover or Wanderer, see Argentina, Uruguay), which became the emblem of the travelling puppeteer. He travelled like this in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America. His outdoor stage was mounted with its painted canvas on the same wagon, lit by oil lamps. The sets and scenery, the glove puppets and the costumes had been crafted by, among others, the painter Emilio Pettoruti, the writers José Luis Lanuza and Enrique Wernicke as well as Ana María Linares.
After moving to Venezuela, where he founded the puppetry workshop Taller de Títeres at the Universidad de Los Andes (ULA) in 1967, he later travelled to Europe (where he followed Don Quixote’s route), as well as to Asia, and then returned to Argentina in 1984 where he spent the last years of his life, participating in many festivals abroad.
With his two theatres, La Andariega and El Gallo Pinto (The Painted Rooster), he marvellously personified a certain type of travelling road show, which he presented in schools, public places, and theatres, while always retaining his own individual style of performing, which was based on a fairly simple repertoire of plays and a minimum number of characters. His contribution was also educational, yet always allowing free rein to imagination and creativity.
Javier Villafañe also edited the puppetry journal Titirimundo and accomplished an important work of research on theatre and popular culture (including a collection of tales and legends). He left a very rich body of writings (stories, essays) and puppet plays, the most famous being La calle de los fantasmas (The Street of Ghosts), El caballero de la mano de fuego (The Knight with the Hand of Fire), El pícaro burlado (The Mocked Rogue), Vida, pasión y muerte de la vecina de enfrente (Life, Passion and Death of the Neighbour Across the Street), El casamiento doña Rana (The Lady Frog’s Marriage), and El panadero y el diablo (The Breadmaker and the Devil). An anthology brings together a number of his works: Antología: obra y recopilaciónes (Anthology: Work and Compilations), Buenos Aires, editorial Sudamericana S.A., 1990.
- Villafañe, Javier. Antología [Anthology]. Buenos Aires, 1990.
- Villafañe, Javier. Los niños y los títeres [Children and Puppets]. Buenos Aires: El Ateneo, 1944.