You’ve got to see this!

If you can’t come to Tbilisi, catch The Battle of Stalingrad in New York City, St. Petersburg, London, Dublin, or wherever you can. We saw this puppet show in a basement in the old part of Tbilisi. And we loved it. Other critics have not been as kind: see the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/22/theater/reviews/22battle.html) and the even harsher Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/drama/3585327/Puppet-battle-upstaged-by-an-ant.html). But we thought that the Georgian director, Rezo Gabriadze, made a very creative show that affects adult audiences emotionally.

The soundtrack was in Russian, but the music, sound effects, props, and skillful movement of the puppets communicated the emotional storyline. In the opening scene, a skeleton slowly, slowly arises from the sand. With a large bony hand, the skeleton sifts through the sand for symbols of the Stalingrad battle (1 million Russians died), such as a star of David, a German helmet, a tattered flag and a cross to mark a grave.

To communicate a “moving train,” three puppeteers use three rotating disks. The middle one manipulates a metal bucket that has rectangles cut out for windows. Passengers sit inside the illuminated bucket, which rotates faster as the train accelerates. Meanwhile two puppeteers add and remove miniature houses, telephone poles, and other scenery on the rotating disks on each side of the train in order to simulate a passing landscape. The entire time, we hear the train accelerating, blowing its whistle and the clanking of the tracks. By the time the train arrives in Stalingrad, all the passengers have departed.

In a striking manner, three puppeteers depict the motion of a 3D wire airplane slowly taking off towards the audience. One holds the fuselage and the other two each hold a wing. The puppeteers skillfully cooperate to keep the plane together, but when the plane explodes in mid-air, each puppeteer moves his/her piece in swaying, poetic motions. Another example of creativity is the director’s decision to use two emaciated horses for the tragic  love story that unifies the play. In the final scene, an ant wanders across the sand, moving its antennae and body while commenting on the senselessness of war from its perspective.

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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