Swiss puppeteer spins a magic yarn with music

A mother had a special gift for her two children on Christmas. She told them that gifts were passe. Instead, she recreated a whole puppet show for them. That was how Swiss puppeteer-actor-ventriloquist Ava Loiacono's version of The Art of the Fugue was born.

By Chandreyee Ghose
  • Published 22.11.16
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A mother had a special gift for her two children on Christmas. She told them that gifts were passe. Instead, she recreated a whole puppet show for them. That was how Swiss puppeteer-actor-ventriloquist Ava Loiacono's version of The Art of the Fugue was born.

A decade on, Loiacono presented it before a young audience at the Calcutta School of Music (CSM) on Children's Day.

The 60-minute performance, directed by Mauro Guindani, was staged in association with Think Arts and the Swiss embassy. Since presenting the first version of The Art of the Fugue for her kids, Loiacono has elaborated on the script and developed it into four languages - English, French, Spanish and Italian.

The theme revolves around a restless duck, Lilo, in search of her identity. She does not like being a duck, wants to be a canary instead. So she takes off to the Canary Islands in Spain in search of recognition. Lilo goes on to become an opera singer, but in the end she realises that running away leaves one nowhere. She returns home, armed with some rich experience. "Lilo is a cartoon and I do three different voices here," said the Swiss artiste. "Ventriloquism is fun."

The piece is interspersed with music and inspired by Bach's masterpiece named The Art of Fugue. "Puppets and ventriloquism are used here but the music acts as an underlying theme," Loiacono added.

Her foray into children's art began in her youth. "My mother Ornella Baragiola was a puppeteer, too, and ran a children's theatre. I started off travelling with other artistes of the company. When my mother died and the company shut down, I started projects on my own," she said.

Loiacono's first visit to Calcutta was not just about the performance though. Earlier in the evening, she conducted a Jaques-Dalcroze eurhythmics workshop for 26 children aged eight to 11.

Jaques-Dalcroze eurhythmics is an active musical pedagogy based on body movements. "It's a musical education that builds your senses and makes you more aware. It also helps musicians improvise better. The sooner the training starts, the better," Loiacono said.

In Switzerland, such training often begins when a child is over a year with both the mother and child taking part, the artiste shared. "The training can continue for several years."

As 26 kids trooped into the CSM auditorium, they took part in different exercises using balls, sticks and composers' names. "Don't be afraid to explore," Loiacono told her young students as they learnt to go back and forth with a stick in hand, moving it creatively.

From alternating moves to just innovating with a ball in hand, Loiacono encouraged the children to let go of their inhibitions.

"I was so happy to see the response here. In Switzerland, you don't find so many kids doing a workshop together. In the beginning, I could make out the kids were self-conscious. Later, they opened up," said the trainer, explaining how the activity would make music students understand different nuances better. "Their teachers don't have to struggle to teach them the basics in this case."

Dhritiman Dutta, a Class III student of DPS Newtown, loved the ball exercise and promises to practise at home.

Loiacono is already working on her next project - The Well - on water crisis and its privatisation.

"It is being done in collaboration with students wherever I am travelling. I plan to return to India again next year and involve local students in the project," she said.