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Poetics of the grotesque in Zlatko Bourek's figure theatre


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Došen, Saša. (2017). Poetics of the grotesque in Zlatko Bourek's figure theatre. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Comparative Literature.
(Poslijediplomski doktroski studij književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture) [mentor Kroflin, Livija and Senker, Boris].

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The aim of this study is defining those qualities of visual poetics of a puppet that make it a successful communication tool within a performance as well as providing better understanding of underlying creative process and artist's transformation of a text into meaningful and active dramatic images. The thesis questions the importance of historical accuracy of a theatrical design for its communicating functionality. The accent is put on theatricality and appropriateness of a design, creative processes in making connections between text and design, the role of symbols and archetypes for emotional reception achieved through puppet design that is achieved by use of basic elements of visual language (line, form, color, texture, lighting). The puppet — actor relationship is analyzed. Surreal is defined as the only artistic norm within the art of theatre. The hypothesis is presented: the most important feature of artistic visual design of puppet is its theatricality and its appropriateness; dramaturgically functional puppet is an important and active participant in forming of a complete meaning of a theatrical performance. The analysis of visual poetics is relatively scarce in the study of theatre. Scientific contribution of this work is aimed at broadening of the field of analysis of the art of theatre and bringing the art of puppetry in the focus of academic research by demarginalization of puppet design and puppetry and their recognition as important and potent visual communication tools within broader practice of theatre. The desired contribution to practice of theatre design, as well as to directors and performers, is better understanding of poetics and dramaturgical potential of visual languages of the stage, encouragement for use of research methods, critical analysis and synthesis for realization of functional theatre designs. A short historical summary of the position of puppet within performing arts, its cultural, social and political importance on a global scale is given. The state of puppet design in Croatia during twentieth century, characterized by predominance of instructional and educational plays aimed chiefly at children is reviewed. Representative artists that have influenced and have greatly contributed to the development of puppetry in Croatia by their engagement in broadening expressive potentials and technological solutions of puppets are addressed: Ljubo Babić, Željan Markovina, Berislav Deželić, Branko Stojaković, Željko Zorica and Mojmir Mihatov. The use of a puppet within theatrical productions aimed at adult audiences, chiefly as a part of physical theatre, intimate and personal works of art, visual or devised theatre and as a strong tool of social critique and change is explained on the examples of work realized by following troups or individuals: Bread and Puppet Theater, The People Show, Tadeus Kantor, Phillipe Genty, The Wrong Crowd, Night Light Theatre Company and Ilka Scönbein. Distinction between decorative and dramaturgically functional approach to visual design of puppet is marked out. The majority of puppet theatres repertoire is aimed chiefly at children. To those, essentially entertaining forms of puppet theatre, opposed is the deeply symbolic expressiveness of Zlatko Bourek's figure theatre aimed at adult audience marked by his distinctive personal poetics of grotesque. The second chapter presents a short biographical outline of life and complete artistic opus by Zlatko Bourek who, during his productive career as an extremely versatile artist (graduating at the Academy of applied arts in Zagreb, specializing in sculpture), has pushed the boundaries of visual expression with virtuosity and unique personal style in many art forms — ranging from sculpture, painting, animated and short feature films, costume and set design for theatre productions, direction of plays and above all puppetry for adult audience — that is rarely matched in contemporary fine art, animated film or theatre design. Bourek was born in Požega, Croatia in 1929. He received his primary and high school education in Osijek where he first came in contact with puppet theatre aimed at adult audience in his early childhood in the form of street fair amusing and naughty puppet performances, then during his high school days in the form of morality plays and public stagings of Lives of Saints in a local seminary where he attended Latin lessons, as well as a grotesque puppet theatre shorts in a form of cabaret acts using ironic couplets at an inn in Osijek. The expressiveness of the form of puppets as well as the clever use of language that encompassed those short theatrical narratives stayed to these days Bourek's main preoccupation in his explorations of the visual communication potentials in the realm of puppet theatre. Already in his first professional outing to the world of theatre design in 1959 (a mediaeval anonymous play The Farce of Master Pierre Pathelin and Eustache D’Amiens' fabliau The Butcher of Abbeville), his designs are marked by his own remarkable, visually and dramatically functional and simple yet playful visual solutions that communicate just as well with an educated theatre audience as well as with any layman entering the world of theatre for a very first time. His costume and set design for those productions and his treatment of the actor's body as a canvas borders with the art of circus and expressiveness of a puppet show. From 1970's to the present, Bourek has been the key figure in the revival of Croatian puppetry that has until then been marginalized as a mere entertainment for children with a scarce educational feature. Visual language of Bourek's puppet theatre is not a follower of fashion of short-lived trends. His figure theatre aimed for adult audience follows exclusively artist's own analysis and interpretation of the symbols and meanings contained within a dramatic text. And just because of those universal qualities that his visual language possesses, the reception of his work was excellent wherever he tried himself out as a puppet designer — in Croatia, Slovenia, Germany or touring with his plays around Old and New world. The third, main chapter is dedicated to the analysis of Bourek's puppet plays aimed at adult audience at the examples of following plays: Orlando Maleroso by Salih Isaac, Stoppard's Hamlet, Skup and Dundo Maroje by Držić, Štok's Divine Comedy, Lysistrata by Aristophanes, a farce Rigoletto, Maître Pierre Pathelin by an unknown author, Molière's The Imaginary Invalid and Ubu-Roi by Alfred Jarry. The analysis encompasses the use of basic visual resources, symbols and archetypes in puppet design, description of artist's creative processes in making design decisions (interviews with the artist), and it explains the dramaturgical function of visual aspects of a puppet that serve realization of the appropriate reception of the work of art. A definite milestone, Orlando Maleroso, written by Salih Isaac in 1977 for Dubrovnik Summer Festival, was a play that spun out Croatian puppetry from its soporific orbit of amusing and educational plays aimed exclusively at children. The play stages a well known local legend of a knight Orlando liberating people of Dubrovnik from Saracens in a form of light fairground entertainment for ordinary people. Bourek's Hamlet, based on Stoppard's 15 minute Hamlet and adapted by Damir Munitić, staged in 1982 in Zagreb, adapts Japanese traditional technique ningyō jōruri. Here Bourek combines Shakespeare's protagonists with visual elements echoing memories of Holocaust and erotic elements on the verge of subliminal. The play was an immediate hit and it toured the world on its wits (and wheels) alone, reaching a high number of seven hundred performances. Divine comedy by Isidor Vladimirovich Shtok, produced by Ljubljana Puppet Theatre in 1982, combines puppets with masked actors whose costumes have been rather sculpted than tailored, all set on a simple monochromatic stage that, in combination with puppets and sculptural costumes, creates a homogenous skillfully designed stylized image of the creation of the world, paradise, temptation and exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Skup by Marin Držić, staged at Dubrovnik Summer Festival in 1983, combines puppetry and live theatre once again echoing visuality of travelling mediaeval and renaissance puppet entertainers, the whole performance space consisting of a shabby wooden cart inhabited by puppets and pulled by the only live actor in the play, Izet Hajdarhodžić who has made his career playing Skup for twenty five years in serious productions prior to this puppet version of Držić's classic. Puppets dominating over a man in Bourek's visual interpretation of Skup are inverting once more Držić's concept and the relation between the people real and fake. Lysistrata by Aristophanes, staged in 1987 at the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre, divides the world of women, played by live actresses, from the world of men embodied by large, almost lifesize masterfully designed figures following the aesthetics of mediaeval altar figures using strong expressive colours and very noticeable characteristics of male gender. In 1989 Bourek designed and directed the farce Rigoletto (after the motifs of Victor Hugo's play in verse The King Amuses Himself and Francesco Maria Piave's libretto for Verdi's opera) in Hans Wurst Nachfaren Theatre in Berlin. Grotesque figures that populate the stage and their potent visual expressiveness use the same technical solutions as does his Hamlet. Eclectic approach to his designs for Dundo Maroje staged in Dubrovnik in 1990 results in engaging imagery that combines visual elements of local folklore, use of theatrical masks and symbols such as oversized loaves of bread, big noses and sexual characteristics that are archetypal to Bourek's visual language and have, over the time, became an organic and inseparable part of his aesthetics in all artistic fields (from theatre design, fine arts, applied arts or film) that encompass his vast opus. In 1992, in the production of Zagreb Youth Theatre, Bourek tackles once again the mediaeval farce Maître Pathelin which begun his career as a theatre designer in 1959, but this time in puppetry medium, a play using hand puppets aimed chiefly at senior population. Molière's The Imaginary Invalid, produced in 1998 by Ljubljana Puppet Theatre, uses large mouth puppets that are, apart from hand puppets and puppets on wheels, dominant in Bourek's puppetry works. Grotesque surreal figures, designed as literal spatial drawings of Molière's caricatural characters, exquisitely depict and exaggerate human flaws in a lively and extremely humorous burlesque. Ubu Roi by Jarry, designed and directed for Split Summer Festival in 2005 merges between puppetry and live theatre. Bourek's sculptural approach to costume design, transformation of actors to live figures using purely visual treatment such as the use of grotesque masks, integration of flat puppets and stage props that are visually inseparable from the actors bodies, as well as stylized postures and body movement of players really do transform actors into large breathing figures that populate the world of Bourek's oversized teatrino. The fourth chapter presents and analyzes Bourek's treatment of an actor as a puppet on the example of performances St. George, Bećarac and Skup, whence the communicational function of the visual elements of the performance is achieved precisely by stepping outside the limits of the real and validating the surreal as the only theatre norm. Saint George from 2004 was staged in Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb and it marks the first entrance of puppet orientated performances into national theatres in Croatia. The imaginative visual mixture of horror and humor is unique in this fairytale-like production. Large, heavy rubber masks with their frozen grotesque expressions, limited body movement of the actors, in visual and dramaturgical terms function as a spectacular puppet performance. Bećarac is Bourek's hymn to the realm of his childhood days, to Slavonia — the land of abundance, lasciviousness of its people and richness of the spoken language in decasyllabic verse. Bourek's design for the play is sophisticated symbolic interpretation of Slavonian folklore imagery and ornaments, with great attention to every small detail. The play is a sequence of grandiose images, while his treatment of the actors is driven by the vocal determinants and rhythm of decasyllabic verse that is, with the carefully thought-through and refined stage movement, turning performers into large living figures. Skup from 2008 is using types of Commedia dell'Arte for its visual interpretation of characters depicted in Držić's play that serve as a reflection of Renaissance era to which both, Držić's writing and Commedia dell'Arte belong. But the use of masked types including carefully designed costumes, posture, movement and the specific style of enunciation in delivering the text, transform actors once again into oversized puppets — caricatures of man's virtues and flaws. The fifth and concluding chapter is a synthesis of the arguments proposed within the critical analysis of the preceding chapters, by which the hypothesis defining characteristics that make dramaturgically functional puppet in the grotesque figure theatre of Zlatko Bourek, as well as in puppetry design in general, is substantiated. Classics of Croatian and world dramatic literature are often Bourek's choice for his figure theatre aimed at adult audience. Nevertheless, Bourek always makes provisional adaptations to the original text, he is cutting out to his own liking characters written by the author, adding Death, Devil and Sexuality that determine his visual dramaturgy and personal symbolism within theatre as well as in the other fields of fine or applied art. Aware of the fact that theatrical performance is, apart from the spoken text and its artistic interpretation by the actors on the stage, in its essence predominantly spatial, visual art form, Zlatko Bourek is using those expressive elements within theatre to their full extent. Using various puppet technologies and styles, combining traditional and deeply rooted techniques with Far East puppetry styles, treating actors as live puppets and constant reinvention of the visual potentials of the puppetry medium and eclectic but meaningful approach to his designs and visual communication within theatre, mark Bourek's industrious career and his inexhaustible, almost childlike energy and enjoyment in play, that produced performances that have most certainly changed and enriched Croatian and European puppetry. Bourek is well educated in the fields of art history, literature and a skillful practitioner of painting, sculpture, illustration, animated and feature films, as well as in the field of theatre design. Even though, he is not restrained by the historical accuracy of a design. Zlatko Bourek is, in order to achieve the inteded reception of a performance, shaping the poetics of his microcosm of a grotesque figure theatre guided by the rich complexity of symbols and archetypes, by rules of theatricality and appropriateness, setting the surreal as the only norm.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: puppetry, Croatian puppetry, figure theatre, poetics of grotesque, grotesque, puppet, puppet theatre for adults, Bourek, Zlatko Bourek
Subjects: Comparative literature
Departments: Department of Comparative Literature
Supervisor: Kroflin, Livija and Senker, Boris
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktroski studij književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2017 09:13
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2017 09:13

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