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A Wonderful Fusion of Puppetry and Dance

Publication: The Australian
Author: Victoria Laurie

1st October 2015

When Fox appears on stage in Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, the auditorium almost reeks of the animal’s distinctive scent. A chiselled and handsome red fox head, manipulated by dancer Rachel Arianne Ogle, emerges from the wings, followed by a flowing tail of shot red silk. As the tail seductively twitches to and fro, we see conjured up before us the full force of Fox’s personality, regal and sinister. “Oh, that’s the bad guy”, whispers a perceptive child.
Adapted form the award-winning book by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, Fox traces the impact of an intruder on the friendship between Magpie (Jessica Lewis) and Dog (Imanuel Dado). Magpie struggles with a crippled wing, while Dog has lost an eye in a dingo fight. The bird becomes Dog’s unseeing eye, and he in turn loves to carry Magpie on his back. Then a fateful dance begins to play out between Fox and Magpie, the object of his desire – and appetite.
Fox is a wonderful fusion of puppet artistry and dance, in a true embrace of different art forms that is too rarely attempted by mainstream theatre and “pure” puppetry. Director Michael Barlow, choreographer Jacob Lehrer and co-creator Noriko Nishimoto have worked a miracle of exquisite sensibility, calculated to leave young minds full of questions.
The three dancers expertly manipulate striking bird, dog and fox headdresses by Leon Hendroff as they dance to composer Lee Buddle’s sweetly forlorn musical score. A backdrop sheet is poked from behind to create rippling raindrops, in a suite of simple theatrical devices that fascinate young viewers.
For nearly 35 years, Spare Parts has stayed faithful to making puppetry when other exponents in Australian have closed their doors. Finessed artistry concealed in a deceptively simple production wins praise from adult viewers as well as the child audiences, always raucously appreciative, that flock to Spare Parts.
Richard Hart, Australian president of the Union Internationale de la Marionnette, has observed that adult audiences in this country have been slower to recognise puppetry as a form of theatre; as a result, some of Australia’s best puppeteers have gone to live overseas. Fox should assure us about the art form.