In 2015, I was nominated for Ronnie Burkett’s Puppetry Heroes: Mentors, Influences, Inspirations and Legends Challenge… And so began five days of writing on instagram and facebook about artists like Nancy Andrews, Paul Mc Carthy, JoJo Baby + Greer Lankton, Janie Geiser, and the style of puppetry known as kuroko.
Day 5 – Kuroko:
Nagi Noda / Basil Twist / Japanese Gameshow
For the final day, I am looking at an inspiration – puppetry styles that use kuroko. What can puppets do that people can’t? Using kuroko, I have seen limbs torn from bodies, sudden drastic shifts in perspective, hyper-flexibility, slow motion, and weightlessness. In kabuki, the kuroko are people dressed entirely in black who move scenery and props. In the few examples I’ve seen, they move objects so artfully that what they do seems more puppetry than stagehand.
On YouTube I stumbled upon Japanese Puppetry Gameshow, where bodies are manipulated beyond limits of ordinary human abilities. An arm suddenly grows ten feet long. Torsos dislocate and blast off like rockets. A missile launches from one man’s chest causing the other to explode. The contrast isn’t perfect, so you can make out some of the performers.
Basil Twist uses a similar effect in Arias with a Twist. When Joey Arias sings about looking for a daddy to the tune of Claire de Lune, a parade of images from her subconscious (desserts and a monkey clanging symbols) hover and float by. I spoke with one of the puppeteers, Jessica Scott, who also referred to the technique as “Czech black” or “light curtain technique”.
I am intrigued by the Scissor Sister’s She’s My Man video, directed by multimedia artist, Nagi Noda (1973-2008), whose work you might recognize from Poodle Exercise with Humans (a parody of Susan Powter’s work out video).
In She’s My Man Jake Shears and Ana Matronic are having a lovely dinner that suddenly turns violent. Napkins and plates are thrown across the table in slow motion and both levitate combatively with dinner knives. Ana Matronic rips apart a chef and waiter before a jacket and what appears to be a loose hair extension strangle Jake Shears. Spoiler alert: They make up by the end.