Extra bodies. The dialogue between living and non-living bodies 0

An express interview with puppeteer Duda Paiva

Māra Pāvula

Puppet designer, artist and director Duda Paiva is coming to Latvia this week and will be leading workshops on awareness – awareness of both the physicality of the inanimate object and the performer's physicality. The workshops are intended for students of puppetry theatre at the Latvian Academy of Culture, as well as for actors from the Latvian Puppetry Theatre. Titled “THE OBJECT SCORE”, the workshops study genre-crossing art forms consisting of object/puppet animation and dance. Before his visit to Latvia, Duda Paiva agreed to answer a few questions about the relationship between the body of the actor and the body of the puppet in his own work.

You have an accomplished background in dance – what brought you to puppetry? 

When I was 14, I obliged myself to learn about theatre studies. During my adolescence, my voice changed very much. It was difficult for me to recite texts. So, I became more like a physical clown during that time. That was why I started taking dance classes. Dancing came as a necessity for me to build my body in order to be able to express myself – since I could not really do much with my voice. Basically, the dancing thing came as a necessity. Some people, and a lot of theatre directors, say that I am an actor who can dance.

And when did puppetry come in? 

It was 1999. I was already in the Netherlands, and I had had a long career as a dancer. There was a production going on that was a collaboration between contemporary dance and puppet theatre. I guess dancing was not fulfilling me as much as I wanted as an actor. So, puppetry became a beautiful bridge linking me and my wishes of becoming an actor.

BLIND (trailer) by DudaPaiva Company

When you call it a bridge linking you to your wishes of becoming an actor, do you mean that the puppets help you to express things in a special sort of way that dancing or theatre could not?

For me, it is a different way of looking at it, which is based on the fact I was very sick when I was a child. Since childhood I have had a very severe eye problem. For some years, I was in the dark. And to have a puppet in my hand with fake eyes – it gives me a tremendous sense of relaxation. With a puppet in my hand I feel secure; I have this feeling of restfulness, of calmness. When I am in this state of calmness, my mind splits in two, three and four. I have a facility to have dialogues between these bodies, which I believe are around us. And the puppets – they represent these extra bodies. Again, the puppet is a necessity for me. 

In your work, what is the role of your own body and its movement?

I believe that in theatre, there are many bodies. Our body is also a poetic body. And the body of a puppet is a different kind of poetic body. But what I find beautiful about the body of the puppet, especially the puppets that I work with, is that they carry within them an incredible, magical spectrum of poetry. They provide illusions that a normal body cannot. For example, they can shrink; they can become bigger if you stretch them; they change a lot with their expressions, much more than a normal actor can. And the body of the actor is the body with a lot of energy, with a lot of life. I find it beautiful – the dialogue between the living body (that is, the body of the actor) and the non-living body of the puppet. The guys who produced “War Horse”, they said something that is very true: “The great challenge for the actor on stage is to die, and the great challenge of the puppet on stage is to be actually alive”. So, the principles are somehow very connected, but the purposes are different. The system that is needed to get something out of these different poetic bodies is a different kind of system. I find it very beautiful, very theatrical, to play with life and death in such a poetic way – using the body of the actor and the body of the puppet.

Break a Legend by DudaPaiva Company

You make your own puppets from foam – it is quite a special technique. Can you tell me a bit more about how you make them?

I started to learn how to do it from my teachers at The Gertrude Theatre in Israel – by just observing them as they made their own puppets. So, I am quite the autodidact.

It is one big block of foam. It is like a sculpture. If you imagine somebody making a sculpture in marble, for example, they have to find the figure inside that block of marble. And that is what I also do. I treat these puppets as sculptures. Sometimes I call them living sculptures because I make a puppet out of one block. The process of making a human-sized puppet can take five to six weeks of working daily, for six hours a day. It is just a block of foam, a pair of scissors, and a lot of patience.

Are there any colleagues in contemporary puppetry that you find very interesting?

There are people who do something completely different. Nowadays, the most contemporary and interesting work is probably that being done by Gisèle Vienne, but she does not follow one technique. It is rather more the concept of how to use puppets and objects on stage. I like to see people like Neville Tranter and The Gertrude Theatre, who come with their own “luggage” of technique, because they can inspire people in terms of the technical aspects – as in the technicality of how to manipulate something, how to give life to a an object.

The beautiful thing about visual theatre, in general, but specifically with puppets, is that each person has their own world. It is not like the ballet, where you stand out from the crowd because you are a good ballet dancer. Here, it comes from the format. A puppeteer finds his own format, and that is why I find it to be such a beautiful and unique form of art.