South African and Dutch artists teamed up to showcase amazing cocreations at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
Amongst them the Dutch all-round dancer, performer, puppeteer, theatre-maker and teacher, Ester Natzijl. We had a chat with here about here play W A T C H I N G, Ceci n’est pas de deux. A solo-duet with a life-size foam puppet created and performed by dancer and puppeteer.
What inspired you to create this piece of work?
During my research into narratives and abstraction, I came across an article written by a Dutch writer, Arnon Grunberg which talked about our bad sides such as egoism and narcissism. His argument was that it is not necessarily a bad side if you know how to turn it into something constructive. This article got me to self-reflect. Within me, I have all these sides and I am trying to make peace with them. The solo-duet is based on my fears and desires. Through this production, I explore how to master and transform these destructive character traits into something constructive.
What inspired the form taken on by the puppet?
As I was contemplating what my fears and desires would look like, I thought of Pina Baush who is a well-known German dance choreographer. I wanted the puppet to look a little bit like her because her pieces give me feelings of fear and desire. I also wanted the puppet to look like a demon because we all have a demon inside us or at least we see it in others. At the same time, the puppet also had to be a sad and suffering creature so I thought of a Sphynx cat.
Where else have you performed this?
I have been to the Amsterdam Fringe Festival, the Flying Solo Festival in Manchester and Amsterdam and a festival in Limburg, Holland.
What have your challenges been with the production thus far?
Once a puppet is created, the material has its own life; it’s magical. However, this means that I could not have the character as I had envisioned it to be. I wanted the puppet to stand up and to be more evil, but it turned out to be a nervous puppet with shaky hands. It also appeared to me like a blank page. This puppet inspired me to develop the intention of my piece. It was no longer just about me, it became about the way that I relate to other people. Because the puppet is a blank page, I created the production with as minimal a storyline as possible so that everyone can project their imagination onto the story. So it’s kind of universal about love, fears and other aspects of interpersonal relationships.
What responses have you received?
The piece has been quite controversial, because there is really no concrete storyline. Some people don’t get it. They see this tension between the woman and the puppet and can’t understand it, so they leave feeling confused. Other people see what I want them to see. It’s either a baby that you need to feed and give attention to or an elderly person because it looks like a corpse. They see all different ways of giving love or sucking energy from each other and that is what I wanted. The interpretation really depends on what is going on in your life. You project your fears and desires onto someone in a relationship and sometimes you realise that the other person is not giving that to you, but is giving something else. So I want audiences to think about that exchange. When is it real or when do you give life to something?
How do you feel about performing for an audience outside of Europe?
Well, I just did my first performance and it was really awesome. It was a full house and I’m very sentimental here because it’s so great to see that everything worked out. I am really happy to be here.
What do you hope will be the impact of your work on the youth who were in the audience today?
For those youth in the theatre industry, I just hope they see that you can also tell stories with atmosphere and objects. I hope to also inspire them, because my technique is very subtle with breath and energy. In general, I hope people see that negative energy can be converted into good. That is the moral of the story.
This blog was written in collaboration with Carol Kagezi, Student Journalist at Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies
W A T C H I N G is made possible by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands