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March 2009


Puppet Theatre Koekla

- Dianna

Little Moek was given 16th performance in two months, the last one at Cinema Paradiso. Most of the audience has seen it before, but were so charmed they had come again, children, women, and even a sprinkling of men.


Photo by Giorgio
Christina Boukova tells the story of Little Moek


Puppet Theatre Koekla (Koekla means puppet in Russian) is a gem of Dutch-Russian puppet theatre. It is a completely integral art form as it combines the figures of the puppets with music, story-telling and costume design in a miniature fantasy setting. Christina Boukova, who come from Russia , and her husband Gilian, from Holland , explained how they brought this fantastical art to Auroville. “With great difficulty,” Christina began. “Outside Russia , puppetry is only known through Punch and Judy shows, so no one takes it seriously. In Russia , especially before Communism, it was a very highly regarded and elaborate theatre form which could involve 20 or 30 people in putting on one show. Nowadays it is smaller, but on Saturdays and Sundays many parents still take their children to see traditional and experimental puppet shows in big theatres. Both my parents were in the Russian theatre and when I was born my mother was working in the theatre so I have been involved in it all my life.”

Auroville had never seen anything like it. It was a concentrated jewel of story telling, weaving in and out of a lush set of velvet and sequined Russian interiors. Christina, a beautiful young Russian woman in a black dress and cap, obviously a trained actress, manipulated the puppets with her deft hands. Sometimes she stood in full view, sometimes hidden behind a miniature castle or an intricate house with animated puppet cats sitting at each window. The attention to detail in her movements was meticulous. The slightest gesture of Little Moek, the boy hero, or the fat king, who had lost his daughter, was caught by her quick movements. She told the story and spoke the character's dialogue with a warm Russian accent which beautifully wove the whole thing together. Fast changing music with an eastern flavour added to the lively pace, as did the subtle shifts of lighting. The small set beautifully focused the mind towards a state of delicate magic. It was simple, yet intricate and fantastic.

Gilian, Christina's husband, has a background in sculpture and painting which is evident in the beauty and imagination of the sets. There are four revolving sets which can be turned to reveal different scenes. They are constructed from papier maché and lovingly painted and decorated in great detail. Gilian operates the music and the lighting which is intricate and very precise as it has to synchronize with the tiny movements of the puppets, which in the case of cats and dogs, for example, can be very small. “Thank goodness I now have my own equipment,” he said. “I brought an electric drill, two saws, a sound mixer and lots of other necessary equipment. Before we had to depend on the vagaries of Indian equipment and electricity but now I feel more in control. We shipped it here in a 250 kilo cargo box but it was a nightmare trying to get it through customs in Chennai. Eventually we had to get a letter from the Secretary of Auroville and it took one month of high anxiety before we were able to get hold of it.”

Christina's father, Riju, has lived in Aspiration, Auroville, for the last 15 years and translates Sri Aurobindo's works into Russian. “We came to visit him 10 years ago and since then we have been devotees of Mother and Sri Aurobindo. We wanted to present our shows here for the Auroville children, but were not sure how to go about it. We asked Stichting de Zaaier, a Dutch charity, for help and advice but nobody seemed to know, or be very interested in us. I suppose they get many applications for all sorts of weird and wonderful projects and ours must have sounded like one of these. The trouble is that in English, ‘puppets', sound rather trivial. In German the word has more authority; figuren theatre. After many unsuccessful applications and requests we finally said; “Let's go for it ourselves.” We worked hard for a couple of years to save money then brought our show to Auroville at our own expense. Over the last five years we have done performances in schools out of a very large black box which we carried around with us.

“It could not have happened without the enthusiasm of Helena, who was working at Transition School . Helena said she would volunteer to be our link with Auroville and has worked incredibly hard to establish venues for our show. Without her we would never have known how to make connections. Auroville can be a big and very confusing place without a good personal contact.

“When people saw our first show, Goldilocks and the Three Bears in 2005 they asked us when we could come back with a bigger new performance. I told them that all our performances are big, so how can we possibly bring them here? Eventually Sanjeev from SAIIER realized our potential and decided to support us in the future. He saw the joy we brought to the children and the potentiality for learning through our medium. Transition School prepared educational material of our show to prepare the children who were wonderfully responsive. Our present show is called Little Moek and is the story of a boy who is looking for happiness. The teacher gave the children a project to make them think about what makes them happy, and they took it home to ask their parents what they thought about happiness. We got an amazing response.”

“In the future we want to work in Holland , and come to Auroville every year. Everything is changing so much in the world now it is difficult to make definite plans, but we are very happy with the way our shows are developing. Our agent tells us we are fully booked for 2009 so we are satisfied. We were offered regular paid work in Bombay and Delhi by the Dutch Embassy, but we wanted to concentrate on Auroville. Also our seven year old daughter, Dariya, loves going to school here for three months every year.

“One of our highlights was giving a show of Little Moek in the Ashram and seeing how the Ashram children responded to it. They put us up in a beautiful home stay and when we went up on the roof to see the full moon I felt great joy as we had accomplished what we had set out to do – 16 performances in Auroville and one in the Ashram. We would like to give a show at the AVI Meeting which will be held in Holland this May. It would be wonderful for us to combine our home country Holland with entertaining Aurovilians from all over the world.”



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