‘In Retrospect’ by LOCO7 Is Culminating Event Of La MaMa’s Puppet Series

child puppet
Model of child puppet for In Retrospect. Puppet by Federico Restrepo. Photo by Gian Marco Lo Forte.

With its newest production, “In Retrospect,” the LOCO7 Dance Puppet Theatre Company, led by Federico Restrepo, investigates how we each construct our personal memory box: how we keep our memories fresh and preserve the things that made us who we are. These include our mothers’ embraces, lost loves, childhood dreams, ideals of youth and struggles of age, loss and birth. This new work will be presented by La MaMa E.T.C. from November 12 to 28, 2010 as the culminating event of “La MaMa Puppet Series IV–Built to Perform,” a festival which carries on La MaMa’s tradition, since its inception, of supporting puppet theater artists from all over the world. Restrepo is arguably Colombia’s greatest export when it comes to Puppet Theater. This is his fourth collaboration with composer Elizabeth Swados and his fifth with author/costumer/performer Denise Greber.

Federico Restrepo, born in Bogota, is a master of Puppet Theater and physical theater who stages epic thoughts using giant puppetry, acrobatic choreography and tempestuous music. This production features giant puppets, marionette scenery, masks, choreography, acrobatics, live original music and video. A large marionette tree dangles fruits high above our reach which, when dropped, grow into our memories. Some of them summon feelings of being loved and secure, others evoke the opposite. For example, one scene depicts a huge Mother marionette and her little children, revealing the pleasure of hiding within the safety of her giant legs. Another scene has a puppet telephone and a character waiting for a call with a mixture of dread and excitement. We are reminded of our emotional dependence on the appliance as a “life line” which can be either a comfort or a monster.

Reflecting the compartmentalization of our feelings, the stage will have a room-within-a-room where a person lives her life locked behind a wall. With this self-inflicted alienation, she watches the world living yet remains cut off, unable to interact with society, hiding behind to safety zone of technology.

The majestic and sharp-witted works of LOCO7 are usually received with a mix of amazement and delight. “Room to Panic” (2008) was described by Anita Gates in The New York Times as “consistently touching and evocative.” Backstage’s Adam Hetrick, reviewing “Bokan The Bad Hearted” (2004), declared it “impresses as a work of whirling intelligence.” Reviewing “Bokan The Bad Hearted” (2004), an Amazonian legend, Neil Genzlinger (The New York Times) stated, “You know you have been enchanted when you step outside into the December air.”

“La MaMa Puppet Series IV–Built to Perform” will also feature five other puppet theater events. It opens October 14 with “Bong Bong Bong against the Walls, Ting Ting Ting in our Heads,” written and directed by Italy’s Dario D’Ambrosi, a play which stages the genius of mad children with puppet theater and song. There will be two works from Poland presented in association with The Polish Cultural Institute, “Chopin-An Impression” by Bialystok Puppet Theatre October 21 to November 7 and “Broken Nails. A Marlene Dietrich Dialogue” by Anna Skubik (Poland) from November 11 to 21. From Brooklyn comes “Wake Up, You’re Dead!,” directed and designed by Aaron Haskell, October 29 to November 7. The children’s puppet theater attraction will be “Folk Tales of Asia and Africa” by Jane Catherine Shaw October 16 to November 7.

From October 21 to November 7, there will be Gallery Exhibit at La MaMa’s La Galleria, 6 East First Street, displaying puppets by noted puppet theater artists including Federico Restrepo, Theodora Skipitares, Jane Catherine Shaw, Dan Hurlin, Lake Simmons, Erik Sanko, Tom Lee and more. La MaMa will have its fall gala October 25, celebrating its 49th season by honoring Cheryl Henson of the Jim Henson Foundation. The evening will have performances by Basil Twist, Roman Paska, Federico Restrepo, Tom Lee, Phantom Limb Company, Lake Simmons & John Dyer and appearances by Dan Hurlin, Mark Russell, Theodora Skipitares, Leslee Carrara Rudolf & Lolly. Special guests will include Caroll Spinney and Oscar the Grouch. The series is supported by the Jim Henson Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, NYSCA and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Special discounts on shows in the La MaMa Puppet Series, including a festival pass, are available through www.nypuppets.org.

Federico Restrepo (concept, production design, director) was born in Bogota, Colombia and founded his company, LOCO7 (www.loco7.org), at La MaMa in 1986 to expand the use of puppetry in dance theater. LOCO7 productions utilize original rhythmic music, live musicians, dancers, body puppets and larger than life marionettes. Restrepo has created ten original pieces at La MaMa, most of which have had subsequent tours throughout the world. “Room to Panic” (2008), with score by Elizabeth Swados, depicted, in movement and visual theater, the struggles of the immigrant’s mind on the path toward assimilation. “Open Door” (2006), also with score by Elizabeth Swados, explored the “paranoia versus hope” mindset of recent immigrants. “Bokan The Bad Hearted” (2004), with score by Elizabeth Swados, was a puppet dance drama that staged Amazonian legends. That production was also part of the 2006 X Iberoamericano Theatre Festival, Bogota, Colombia. “9 Windows” (2002) portrayed the City through an immigrant’s eyes, with wild rhythm and frantic energy. “Colores” (1998) created exciting conceptual images of the evolution of the Mestizo people of Colombia, whom he lovingly refers to as the children of the Spanish Conquest. That production was part of the Jim Henson Foundation’s International Festival of Puppet Theater. “Aguirre, the Spiral of the Warrior” (1996) was based on the legend of the Spanish conquistador who rebelled against Spain to create his own empire. “Cosecha” (1990) was a work on the lives of Colombian refugee farmers. “Loco 7” (1989) was a multi-media odyssey through the subways of NY with giant puppet subways and was the origin of his company’s name. It followed two other Gotham fantasies, “Locombia” (1986) and “Carrera” (1988). Mr. Restrepo is also an independent choreographer, lighting designer, teaching artist and member of La MaMa’s Great Jones Rep.

Elizabeth Swados (composer) has been nominated for five Tony awards, numerous Drama Desk, Ace and Emmy Awards and has won several Obies, Outer Critics Circle Awards, a PEN Citation, and an Anne Frank National Foundation for Jewish Culture award. She began her professional career as a composer at La MaMa, working with Peter Brook and Andrei Serban and winning her first Obie at age 21 for setting “Medea” to ethnic music. Her memorable La MaMa productions include “Fragments of a Greek Trilogy” with Serban, “Crow” with Robbie Anton and the opera-oratorio “Jerusalem.” In 1996, she directed a pair of her own musicals, “Doonesbury Flashbacks,” based on Garry Trudeau’s comic strip, and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” based loosely on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, both at La MaMa. During the last few seasons, she has scored several more epic plays for the Great Jones Repertory, all directed by Ellen Stewart, and directed two other original musicals for teenagers. Her Broadway credits also include “Doonesbury.” Her Off-Broadway credits also include “Alice in Wonderland” (with Meryl Streep), “Dispatches,” “The Haggadah,” “Jerusalem,” “Rap Music Ronnie” (with Gary Trudeau), and “Missionaries.” Her writing collaborations with Federico Restrepo include the aforementioned “Room to Panic,” “Open Door” and “Bokan the Broken Hearted.” Mr. Restrepo choreographed her “Everything Is Different,” a musical dance puppet piece dealing with physically challenged children and the world’s perceptions of “normality.” (www.lizswados.com)

Denise Greber (Managing Director of LOCO7, concept/designer/performer) is an artist in resident at La MaMa. Since 2001, she has been a member and managing director of LOCO7. She was a performer and costume designer for LOCO7’s “Room to Panic,” “Open Door,” “9 Windows” and “Bokan the Bad Hearted” and coordinated four international tours of various LOCO7 productions. She has appeared in numerous other stage productions at La MaMa and other venues, including the Ontological, Ohio Theater, and HERE. She also has a prolific career as an actress in independent films and is an active costume designer around NYC. Her costumes for “Bokan the Bad Hearted” were nominated for a 2005 New York Innovative Theatre Award. She is a member of La MaMa’s Great Jones Rep. (www.denisegreber.com)

This production is conceived and created by Federico Restrepo and Denise Greber and designed, choreographed and directed by Federico Restrepo. Music is composed by Elizabeth Swados. Puppet, set, video, lighting design and construction are by Federico Restrepo. Costume design is by Denise Greber. Musical director and musician is Sebastian Quiroga.

The piece will be performed by Federico Restrepo, Sara Galassini, Denise Greber and Allison Hiroto. Puppeteers are Beatrice Davies and Kiku Sakai.

Admission to this performance is $18 general admission and $13 for students and seniors. For tickets, call the box office at 212-475-7710 or order tickets online at www.lamama.org.