Shadow plays may be one of the oldest forms of the collaboration of visual arts, story-telling, performance and music. Cut-out figurines move across a screen while back-lit, like an ancient video, performing some kind of a tale. It’s been particularly popular in Southeast Asia for centuries, where founding myths such as the Ramayana are retold by puppets moving in classical dance poses. On any given hot, steamy night anywhere in Java, shadow puppets dance across screens for hours on end, to the accompaniment of the soothing sounds of a gamelan orchestra. It’s not hard to see how such a form of storytelling evoking mystical creatures but relating to everyday life can be translated to our city on the edge of the Caribbean.
In fact, a local version was being created by kids this summer, at the de la Cruz Collection’s workshop for elementary and middle school children that took place in July and August. Under the direction of video artists and educators Damian Rojo and Celeste Fraser Delgado, the young ones explored all aspects of this unique form, but in a very modern way. They came up with storylines, they discovered the intricacies of lighting and stage design, they explored how music as a soundtrack makes a production complete, and they learned how to make a video. And then Rojo and Delgado filmed it all.
Make no mistake, while created by children, this is no child-like production. Last winter, these two produced a show at Miami International Airport, a “Carnival of the Arts,” that was spectacular. They had guided a group of at-risk teenagers into an exploration of the Caribbean roots and tradition of carnivals. The masks and mannequins and imagery that they all came up with was an explosion of creativity and color.
Tomorrow night, during the Second Saturday Art Walk, we will see the latest. “Shadow Play: The Art of Shadow Puppetry in the Digital Age” will consist of three films that resulted from the summer workshop: Monsters Unleashed; Pandemonium; and If You Keep Your Word. Who knows what new, insightful tales will be unspooled here.
“Shadow Play: The Art of Shadow Puppetry in the Digital Age” will be screened from 7-10 p.m. at the de la Cruz Collection, 23 N.E. 41st St., Miami; 305-576-6112; www.delacruzcollection.org.