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Petrushka: A Note from the Creator

Photo by Richard Termine.

Puppets are magic. The mystery of a bundle of cloth and wood coming to life and inspiring emotion in an audience is what has kept me captivated by this art form. When we believe in or relate to a puppet we connect to the very pure essence of a spirit or feeling. Puppets have no other life apart from the stage (unlike an actor)—no sheer purpose than what they convey during a performance. We the audience make them alive—we give them meaning. Petrushka is a story about puppets. Presented as an actual puppet show instead of a ballet, it becomes the perfect meditation on how this magic puppetry touches us—what it is to be alive, to want to be free, to feel and to love.

I am extremely reverent of the original production as it was presented in 1911 by the Ballets Russes, featuring the legendary Nijinsky. However, the characters and storyline first seen on the stage of the Théâtre du Châtelet are figments of another era and culture. Ultimately, my guide is Igor Stravinsky’s magnificently evocative music. It inspired, very specifically, every fantastic image in my head—and now on stage. In many instances my understanding of the music has led to different characterizations and narrative action than the original production. Stravinsky said, “to see gesture, and the movement of the different parts of the body which produce it, is essential in order to grasp it in all of its rich variety.” I am thrilled to have Julia and Irina Elkina, musicians of the highest caliber and co-creators of this show, with me once again on stage with the puppeteers, conveying the power and majesty of this music.

I am extremely grateful to Jane Moss for originally commissioning this piece and for Jon Nakagawa who produced and guided it so lovingly. It remains one of my favorite creations and I am proud to have it make its Washington, D.C. premiere with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, who already have become such great supporters of my work through championing the Twist Festival DC. I am lucky to have an incredible creative team—especially my nine wonderful puppeteers who are the absolute best in New York. I cannot thank enough my friend Barbara Busackino for her tireless support and encouragement, assistance and guidance. I feel that Petrushka is as much her creation as it is mine. I invite the audience to let yourselves go—to believe in and feel for Petrushka. Then for a moment, step away and witness that feeling for a bundle of wood and cloth. Seeing that is magic.

Petrushka will be presented at the Lansburgh Theatre (450 7th Street, NW) from March 16-25, 2012. For tickets and more information, call the Box Office at 202.547.1122 or visit

Hear more about Basil’s work on March 22 at 8 p.m. University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies professor Izumi Ashizawa will interview Basil Twist about his process and body of work. Audience members can ask questions of Twist and view puppets from his productions. For further information on other Basil Twist events, please visit the festival website.

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