Entertainment » Theatre

Symphonie Fantastique

by Brooke Pierce
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jun 27, 2018
Symphonie Fantastique

At a time of social and political upheaval, when it seems like we're always surrounded by loud voices debating back and forth (including, often, in the theater), it's an incredible relief to be able to spend an hour in a darkened room, taking in glorious sounds and enchanting sights. Such is the experience offered in Basil Twist's "Symphonie Fantastique," now playing at HERE Arts Center.

This is the 20th anniversary of "Symphonie Fantastique," which opened at HERE in 1998 and returns as a part of a celebration of HERE's 25th season. The piece helped establish the career of its creator, designer, and director, Basil Twist, a puppeteer who has since gone on to design and direct his own take on the opera "Hansel and Gretel" and has designed puppets for Broadway shows like "The Addams Family" and "The Pee-wee Herman Show."

Inspired by the titular symphony written by composer Hector Berlioz in 1830, Twist wanted his "Symphonie Fantastique" to be an "abstract puppetry show." Unsure if there was even such a thing as abstract puppetry, Twist set out to create his own version of it, and with a particular stroke of genius, he made his centerpiece a large tank of water.

As the performance begins, pianist Christopher O'Riley sits down at a grand piano and begins playing Franz Liszt's piano transcription of Berlioz's symphony. Just behind the piano is a square curtain which lifts to reveal the tank. From there, we are treated to five movements-at about 55 minutes total running time-of Twist's captivating visuals playing wonderfully with the music.

Billowing fabrics, floating feather boas, and large glittering garlands are among the items manipulated by the show's five hard-working puppeteers (who go unseen until after the show, when audience members are invited to file through the backstage area and see how the magic happens).

An array of items, in different shapes and sizes and textures, swirl in gorgeous patterns and interact with each other playfully, to create an engaging artistic display. Colorful lighting, squirting ink, bubbles, and other creative touches also add to the visual delights.

Although Berlioz actually had a whole romantic story in mind for "Symphonie Fantastique," Twist intentionally does not include much about it in his author's note in the program, as he prefers his version to stand on its own. There may be others out there more likely to read deep meaning into this work, but I was content to take it at face value. I saw anxious ghosts and languid jellyfish, creepy crawly creatures navigating at the dead of night, oceanic dance parties, and much more.

What will you see? You'll have to dive in to find out.

"Symphonie Fantastique" runs through September 2 at HERE Arts Center 145 Sixth Avenue in New York City. For information or tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.here.org.

Brooke Pierce is a freelance writer and playwright in New York City. Her plays have received staged readings at the American Theatre of Actors, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Stage One Theater. Brooke is a member of the Drama Desk and the Dramatists Guild.


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