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Basil Twist recreates 'The Rite of Spring' in puppet performance

Basil Twist Puppets
Basil Twist Puppets

When “The Rite of Spring” premiered in Paris in 1913, it was a ballet for human dancers. Tonight, American puppeteer Basil Twist premieres his version — which has been reimagined for silk, paper and smoke.

The world premiere of Twist’s “The Rite of Spring” was commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts in 2009 for the centennial celebration of the controversial ballet.

“This is taking the music and interpreting it and taking it away from the human body,” Twist said.

“Walt Disney did that in ‘Fantasia.’ He took ‘The Rite of Spring’ and he did this incredible thing with volcanoes and dinosaurs and it was magnificent. And so, I kind of aspire to that.”

The piece — accompanied by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s — will be a defining moment in Twist’s artistic career, he said.

Twist said his production “Symphonie Fantastique,” which premiered in 1998, was his version of a psychedelic and trippy abstract puppet show — as opposed to representative puppetry.

“I always wanted to take that idea of doing an abstract show and doing it on a large scale, with an orchestra,” Twist said.

“I’ve been setting myself up to make this giant abstract show, in a way, for my whole career — and so here’s my chance.”

Emil Kang, executive director for the arts at UNC and head of CPA, said seeing the piece come from concept to curtain is very satisfying.

“Knowing we enabled Basil to grow as an artist speaks to the whole point of commissioning new work, which is the notion that art is always moving forward,” Kang said.

“We’re not only in the business of preserving old art, we are about continuing the exploration of new ideas.”

Kang said it is never possible to predict the audience’s reaction to a work — especially a new one.

“Anyone expecting to see puppets will be sorely disappointed,” he said.

“Animating the inanimate enforces the notion of finding poetry in still objects and rhythm in unexpected places.”

Joe Florence, marketing and communications manager for CPA, said Twist’s show is coolest thing CPA has done all year.

“Not only is it a rare opportunity to hear ‘The Rite of Spring’ performed by a live orchestra, it’s also a chance to see every square inch — up and down — of the stage used,” Florence said.

Kang said this is the first time an orchestra has performed in the pit this season, as well as only the second time the entire score to “The Rite of Spring” has been played.

“The performance also adds a neat parallel to what audiences in 1913 saw for the first time in that Basil’s piece is a world premiere and it’s abstract and unlike anything we’ve ever seen at Memorial Hall,” Florence said.

Twist said this performance is tied to Memorial Hall, and that the stage itself is the most important instrument he is using.

“There are 55 line sets and I’m using all of them,” Twist said. “There’s probably never been a show here that uses every single line set.”

Twist said when he was approached to take part in the season, he knew that taking part in the centennial celebration would be something to live up to.

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“You have to be fearless and you have to do something new and push yourself — so that’s what I’m doing.”

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