Now in its second decade of supporting the work and creative development of artists from Scotland and around the world, Manipulate Festival is Scotland’s foremost celebration of innovative visual theatre and animated film. This year continued in that tradition, with an eclectic mix of animated film, object theatre, dance and visual art.
The first day was an animation feast, with a full afternoon and evening of programmes covering a range of production in stop motion, puppetry and 2D. Programmes reflected conventional narrative and abstract works, including a showcase from ‘Punto Y Raya’ (Spain’s ‘Dot and Line’ Festival) and our own ‘Women in Puppetry & Puppet Animation’ from Bristol Festival of Puppetry 2017. In addition to the straight ahead screenings, we were also treated to guest-curated programmes, notably retrospectives from comic book artists turned animators, Alberto Vasquez and Khris Cembe, and the Estonian animation artist, Ülo Pikkov, which provided a deeper insight into each collection.
Animated work that caught my eye included Chloe Leseur’s ‘TIS‘, a production with a clever use of paper cut out animation in a 3D space that explores themes of disability, becoming and healing. Also Marco Jemolo’s noir animated short-film ‘Framed‘ made us think by using the stop motion process as a metaphor to explore the role of the individual in society in a frank yet light-hearted way.
The live performances didn’t disappoint either. Although the festival celebrates art forms beyond even our broad definition of puppetry, it felt clear what the connections are and thus served to inspire, as well as entertain us. The overall live events programme offered an interesting mix of visual theatre including: object manipulation, dance and installation works with many overlaps in individual performances.
The curation style was to schedule performances with similar forms and themes in succession, inviting the audience to consider the work overall, as well as appreciate each individual performance stand-alone. The quirky yet mischievous humour of the object theatre performances shone for me, in particular Ariel Doron’s ‘Plastic Heroes’, a cheeky yet innovative performance that used toy soldiers with hilarious effect.
By contrast, the physical theatre performances were powerful, often exploring darker themes and movement that challenged expectations. ‘Achilles’ from Company of Wolves, offered a violent, gritty insight into the classical legend. Likewise Sabine Molenaar’s ‘Almost Alive’ challenged its audience with visceral motion pieces that explored primal themes. Although I found both these works a little laboured at times, it certainly shook up any preconceptions of both narrative and performance I might have had.
A fascinating performance incorporating object and physical theatre was delivered by Ramesh Meyyanpann, whose darkly comical ‘Off Kilter’ followed one man’s gradual discombobulation with an ingenious use of sleight of hand illusion and amusing (yet anxiety provoking) non-verbal storytelling.
Manipulate Festival also provides a platform for emerging artists and work-in-progress with Snapshots and Testroom. These short performances allow feedback to be solicited at various stages in development, and provides good opportunity for audiences to see and shape future productions. Among the fledgling works were some stand out performances, notably ‘Hand//Shake’ by Katie Armstrong, a short dance performance executed with great expertise and humour, and ‘Rendition’ by Freda O’Byrne from the Curious School of Puppetry, which is shaping up to be a moving production that will shine a light on the de-humanising practices detainees have been subjected to on CIA detention.
We ended our festival experience on a truly magical note, with whimsical, warming works from France’s Velo Theatre and Flop & ATH Associés. ‘Dal Vivo’ from acclaimed performance artist Flop, brought beautiful animation to still life with the ingenious use of projection through all manner of quirky apparatus, fashioned from everyday objects. Yet the pièce de résistance for me was Velo Theatre’s ‘The Frog at the Bottom of the Well Believes that the Sky is Round’ – an enchanting performance experience that offers a slice of childhood that is simply unforgettable.
Founded in 1984, Puppet Animation Scotland champions puppetry, animation and visual theatre both in Scotland and internationally. Puppet Animation Scotland is a Creative Scotland Regularly Funded Organisation. They produce two festivals; manipulate Visual Theatre Festival and Puppet Animation Festival, each year. Find out more at the website: http://puppetanimation.org/