Manipulate Festival: 'Effortlessly blurring creative boundaries and revitalising the post-festive season slump'

Manipulate Festival: 'Effortlessly blurring creative boundaries and revitalising the post-festive season slump'

Open the Owl / credit: Jaka Varmuz

With another brilliant international roll call of boundary-blurring productions, we speak to the creatives behind two of the visual theatre festival's major shows to find out what audiences can expect

Now entering its 13th edition, Manipulate has, as ever, a superb line-up of circus, physical theatre, puppetry, cabaret and animation, from international artists to local companies. The festival has relocated this year from the Traverse Theatre to Summerhall and The Studio at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre. But the focus is still on breathtaking work across various disciplines, all with an iconoclastic approach, featuring a line-up of companies including Collectif Aie Aie Aie from France, Pearly Oyster, Oceanallover, Paper Doll Militia plus new work from dancer-choreographer Katie Armstrong.

Formed in 2011, wildly ambitious Ljubljana Puppet Theatre from Slovenia will bring a singular, audacious take on the Faust tale to Manipulate with Open the Owl. As their general manager Uros Korencan explains: 'We see the production as a special homage to 100 years of puppetry development in our territory. It is a mixture of historical references and contemporary approach.'

Korencan says the piece is unconventional as the audience is not seated. 'In this sense, the show is reminiscent of gallery performance art. It also has unconventional dramaturgy – the stage transforms and forces the audience to move. In this way, we engage the audience more and they will have different readings of the performance, depending on the position of the viewer.'

Manipulate Festival: 'Effortlessly blurring creative boundaries and revitalising the post-festive season slump'

Fault Lines

Collaboration is another vital component of the company's discipline. Korencan adds: 'Our theatre is eager to collaborate with artists that cross borders of genre, because we would like to be a part of the development of contemporary theatre that uses puppets, objects and other performance registers … The best of our productions go through a collaborative process – I believe that if the complete creative and artistic team [together with actors] develop the creation together, we get the best results.'

Two Destination Language, the Scots/Bulgarian company based in the UK, make unique work which is immediate, playful and thought-provoking. Their new piece, Fault Lines is an immersive experience, as co-artistic director Katherina Radeva explains. 'Fault Lines foregrounds the bodies, stories and histories of a group of women who come from different walks of life and backgrounds. It takes the form of a fashion show, but in true Two Destination Language style, stuff starts lopsided, falls apart, and then of course, it gets rebuilt again.

'But this time round, we get to rebuild it with a new focus in mind – focusing on celebrating the differences between us and remapping the landscape around us,' she says. 'It's a very fun show, with great music and so much energy. It is ultimately about identity and belonging, and it stems from a long interest of how cultures interact. Each audience member gets to choose between soundtracks throughout, so there are any number of possible journeys, and that feels right in a piece that's focused on the individual experience.'

Manipulate Festival: 'Effortlessly blurring creative boundaries and revitalising the post-festive season slump'

Open the Owl / credit: Jaka Varmuz

As Radeva is also a visual artist, crossing genres is a vital component, with art, music and cinema providing influences. 'The kind of work we make is about discovering little fragments all over the place, and putting them together into something new – and we never want the influences to be from just one art form. We aren't even going to get started on music, because it's such a big part of the audience experience in the show!'

As Ljubljana Puppet Theatre and Two Destination Language prove, expectations around the limitations of form within puppetry and physical theatre productions are constantly shifting, as work becomes increasingly sophisticated and forward-thinking, taking on political and societal issues while providing entertainment that works on numerous levels.

This year's festival also features some exciting workshops – Nataly Leboulex on animation, and puppeteer Gavin Glover for those looking to learn more about work processes with puppets – while Tashi Gore will lead Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process, a method for giving and getting feedback on a work in progress. The event will focus on After Metamorphosis, a new take on the Kafka tale created by Lewis Sherlock and Ali Maloney.

Effortlessly blurring creative boundaries and revitalising the post-festive season slump with its inventive and exciting programme, this 13th edition looks set to be a lucky one for Manipulate.

Manipulate Festival, Summerhall and The Studio, Edinburgh, Fri 31 Jan–Sat 8 Feb.

Manipulate Festival

Puppet Animation Scotland collates a collection of world-class animation, puppetry and related performing arts of all styles and techniques from a range of international artists and companies. The 2020 event features late-night music events, café-cabarets, workshops and more.

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