2004_09_artsamyphoto2.jpgWe love the word mesmerize and don’t find occasion much to use it enough in our daily vocabulary, so Gothamist is doubly happy to report that we were mesmerized by the revival of renowned puppeteer Basil Twist’s SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUEat Dodger Stages.

Quite honestly, we weren’t sure based on the show’s description what to expect. We knew there was lots of water involved, and we expected puppets to be in the mix, given the involvement of Twist, a renowned puppeteer. The Obie-award winning show was originally performed in Soho’s tiny 78-seat HERE Arts Center in 1998, selling out for two years, and has now returned to New York, moving uptown to the new Dodger complex, playing in a 199-seat theatre.

SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE was inspired by Hector Belioz’s 1830 classic musical piece. There are five movements, with such evocative names as “Reveries, Passions” and “Dream Of A Witches Sabbath.” Twist has choreographed his piece to Berlioz’s one-hour long suite, letting his imagination completely run wild in the process. Essentially, he has designed a unique world where the puppeteers create surreal, dreamlike images in the water by using a mix of colorful fabrics, feathers, glitter, air bubbles, dyes, and much more. All this is combined with overhead projections and trippy lighting effects to create an awe-inspiring environment where schools of fish whirl by and colored clouds appear and dissipate magically. The audience members view all of this activity from the front view of the tank, never seeing the puppeteers, who are hidden from view.

2004_09_artsamyphoto.jpgMany of the materials used in the tank as ‘puppets’ are manipulated to change from one image to another, spectacularly. A piece of cloth is transformed to a ghostly image, magically disappearing. Streamers become seahorses at one point, then sharks. Or did they? The show is a completely subjective experience, and one person may see completely different shapes than the person sitting next to them. The vivid colors and endless shape-shifting of the images created are a wonder to the eye and evoke great artists from our collective unconsciousness, including Matisse, Dali and Kandinsky (of whom Twist attests in his program notes to taking inspiration from).

Twist has created a dazzling work of three-dimensional abstract art that lives, breathes, and sweeps over the audience. At the performance’s end, the puppeteers came out in their wet suits, thoroughly soaked. One of the stage doors then opened, and interested audience members were allowed to walk backstage for a brief behind-the-scenes view, which included a glimpse at some of the props and an incredible whiff of chlorine.

A special note must be made regarding the show’s venue, Dodger Stages. This complex has cleverly redesigned the old bargain Cineplex at Worldwide Plaza to smashing effect. With five stages and a funky industrial vibe throughout, the complex shows great promise for drawing in audiences for off-Broadway theatre and performance pieces.

[Photos by CAROL ROSEGG]