One cannot discuss puppets in Cuba without noting the monumental work of Teatro de Las Estaciones (Theatre of the Seasons), a group created just 15 years ago in the western town of Matanzas, committed to preserving the heritage of puppet theatre in Cuba.
The artistic sensitivity of its two founders, designer Zenén Calero and actor-director Rubén Darío Salazar, has brill iantly shaped this company's repertoire, using excellent scripts from universal and national dramatic arts. The works of authors such as Dora Alonso(the most translated and published Cuban author for children, born in Matanzas in 1910 and died in Havana in 2001), Federico García Lorca, Javier Villafañe, Modesto Centeno and, recently, Norge Espinosa (prizewinning Cuban poet, critic and scriptwriter) enhance their shows, rich in imagination, color and good taste.
How to properly describe the emphatic charm of puppets on the Cuban stage that move and thrill the adult spectators as much as they do children? In its endless pursuit of excellence, Teatro de Las Estaciones first studied the works of Hermanos Camejo (a famous family of Cuban puppeteers in the 40s, 50s and 60s) as well as the most varied techniques of manipulation. According to Salazar, this was the boost received from those who "took this art out of a desert of theories, intentions and, of course, results".
Rejecting the pitiful, self-marginalized and weak discourse of a certain group of the theatre community of the time, Calero, Salazar and the rest of the Matanzas' group bet on shielding themselves with the armour of excellence and truth.
Many of their most famous productions attest to this; the most recent, Por el monte carulé (memories and views of pianist Ignacio 'Bola de Nieve' Villa) was a milestone on the Cuban puppeteer scene.
On the stage, a small round table and a white overhead l ight recreate the intimacy of a living room for an expectant audience aware of surprises to come. The show begins. A song by Bola de Nieve (Ignacio Villa 'Snowball' also considered) plays and two waiters from the well known Monseigneur restaurant, a luxurious restaurant where Villa used to play, are surprised by the apparition of the charismatic chansonnier.
The subtlety and originality of the puppets are immediately apparent. In a fast tour through the artistic l ife of the singular comedian, actors and puppets captivate everyone; this was the experience in late 2009 at the XIV International Puppet Festival in Charleville-Mezieres, France.
Representing Cuba at such a prestigious event, at which professionals from all five continents participate, became a great incentive for these creators of fantasies. As Salazar points out, "puppet theatre was not created for children; performances took place in publ ic squares, for all to enjoy: adults, peddlers, policemen, priests; it was only in the 20th century that this art fell into crisis and 'discovered' children as an audience".
It is the opinion of the director that children go to the theatre for fun, but they go with their parents, who should not be bored by the experience. "Both the children and the parents must enjoy the show; it is our responsibil ity to create something for both audiences, so the family leaves having enjoyed an experience in which they also participated."
Teatro de Las Estaciones holds fast to that idea. Quality, precision and creative risks mark its future path, while it spins new ideas to keep the charm of puppets alive.