Ljubljana Puppet Theatre, one of the most well-known Slovenian theatres, celebrated its 70th birthday in 2018. The theatre's repertoire consists of puppet and theatre shows for children, young people and adults, where traditional forms of puppetry are combined with several contemporary performance practices. At the Annual Conference of the Network of European Museum Organisations held in November 2018 in Valletta, Malta, the Puppet Museum at Ljubljana Castle received a special award from the jury.
The shortlist for the award was made up of 12 museums from Australia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Great Britain, Slovenia and Singapore.
The Puppet Museum was established in 2015 under the auspices of the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre and the Ljubljana Castle. It is a complex project that, in addition to staging Slovenian puppet shows at Ljubljana Castle, introduced systematic preservation of Slovenia’s puppet heritage.
First creative impulses
The theatre drew from different traditions characterising Slovenian puppetry since its beginnings in the second decade of the twentieth century.
The founding father of Slovenian puppetry was a painter, Milan Klemenčič, who received an education in the romantic tradition of Italian and especially German string-puppet theatres.
In 1910, he introduced his own private Tiny String-Puppet Theatre to the public.
- In 1936, Czech puppeteer Jan Malík created one of the most frequently performed puppet plays in the world. In 1951, the performance Spotty the Ball and its now cult marionettes were first presented to the audience in the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre, under the direction of Jože Pengov, which changed the hitherto puppet art in terms of its content, as well as dramaturgical and technical approach. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA
- Spotty the Ball Photo: Ljubljana Puppet Theatre archives
It was Klemenčič's miniature puppets that inspired French director Renaud Herbin: his show Open the Owl placed Slovenian puppetry tradition in the context of contemporary performance practices.
The French-Slovenian coproduction had its world premiere at last year’s puppetry festival in Charleville-Mézières, France, which is the biggest gathering of puppeteers in the world, and has since toured several European cities. The premiere was marked by some fascinating reviews in France and Slovenia that highlighted the amusing and inventive direction, the artists’ precision and concentration, the range of beautifully intertwined and ingenious ideas, the attractiveness of the performance with several layers of interpretation and, last but not least, the outstanding work of puppetmasters Maja Kunšič and Iztok Lužar and their incredibly energetic personifications of the protagonists. The French newspaper Le Monde wrote the following: "The combination of the puppets made after originals from the Slovenian puppeteer, video projections unveiling the work of puppetmasters and actors, as well as the contemporary version of the story rewritten by the novelist Célia Houdart, were a genuine success both in terms of aesthetics and dramaturgy."
Ljubljana Puppet Theatre is making its way to the international scene through co-productions and collaborations with established artists from all over Europe.
Notable guest performances include the award-winning children's show Goose the Bear, where the theatre collaborated with the renowned British designer Donna Willson, and the shadowplay Duck, Death and the Tulip by the Italian master of shadow puppets Frabrizio Montecchi, which has continued to play at festivals since its premiere four years ago.
The show’s creators have so far won twelve awards from different festivals and tours. The theatre also proves its integration in international puppetry trends by organising the Biennial Festival of the Contemporary Puppetry Art, LUTKE. This is presents a cross-section of diverse puppet visions and quests reflective of modern times; it is a satirical, absurd, poetic and impressive comment on current social issues. The latest edition took place in September, and featured puppeteers from France, Israel, Finland, Spain, Iran, Russia, Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.
The theatre also devotes particular attention to cooperation with the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television.
One result of this is Crime and Punishment directed by Mirjana Medojević. The Association of Theatre Critics and Researchers of Slovenia declared it the best performance of the 2016/2017 season, and audiences in Russia, where the show toured a few months ago, were so thrilled that the media wrote about "a mad Slovenian spectacle".
More than seven decades of Ljubljana Puppet Theatre
The anniversary season brings a selection from the seven decades of Ljubljana Puppet Theatre. Some shows from the theatre’s beginnings have thus made their way back to the repertoire. One of the most popular shows is Spotty the Ball by Czech author Jan Malík, left almost unchanged since 1951, now returning with a new cast after a few years’ break. In a different vein, one of the peaks of the anniversary celebration a was spectacular contemporary staging of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, featuring more than a hundred actors, singers and musicians.
In the recent years, the theatre has consolidated its position in Slovenia’s performing scene, enjoying a favourable response from the professional public as well as countless audience members. The Ljubljana Puppet Theatre is visited by about 130,000 people per year.
Its programme, with 13 premieres and 30 reprises from past seasons, is also diverse in terms of its media of expression. The shows combine the features of puppet theatre, new performance forms, the theatre of objects, shadow theatre, live performance, and more. The focus is on the audience, who bring ever new challenges to the theatre. Sometimes audience members move freely through theatrical spaces, free of stage conventions, at other times they can even directly affect the action on stage, turn it upside down, and change it completely. The performance thus becomes an increasingly live form of theatre that opens different horizons for audiences, provides them with an insight beyond everyday life through an aesthetic experience, and calls for a more engaging relationship, new sensibility, cooperation and reflection.
The Ljubljana Puppet Theatre is now a modern theatre whose rich productions impress both domestic and foreign audiences.
While it is not afraid to introduce new performance practices, its meticulous care for the heritage of Slovenian puppetry ensures that Slovenian puppet legends do not disappear from the memories of its many generations of visitors.
Date: 6. January 2020
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