Saturday, December 5, 2009

Picasso Pulcinella Mask and Sketch

Oh, man. I went to the Picasso museum the last time I was in Paris and I was lucky because the day after I went, the museum closed down for renovations until 2012! I had no idea it was closing, but just showed up and had good timing. I also had no idea that Pablo Picasso had designed costumes and masks for a Commedia production.

Below are photos of his Pulcinella sketch and mask. Look closely at the mask. It's made of wood and canvas, and totally nontraditional. I love it (sort of)!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Picasso's Harlequin

Picasso's best known alter ego is the Harlequin, a mysterious character with classical origins who has long been associated with the god Mercury and with Alchemy and the Underworld.

Harlequin's traditional capacities to become invisible and to travel to any part of the world and to take on other forms were said to have been gifts bestowed on him by Mercury. It was also said that the secrets of Alchemy were to be found concealed within the Harlequinade.

Harlequin is also a established character of Punch and Judy theatre who in his local forms of 'Christoforo' and 'Pulchinelli', was a popular feature of Barcelona street life at the turn of century.

Picasso undoubtedly saw many such performances at this time, he even assisted in some of Pére Romeu's puppet shows at Els Quatre Ghats and he would have also seen re-enactments of Harlequin's triumph over Death in Barcelona's annual street carnivals.

Wine was one of Harlequin's traditional accoutrements which he often used to seduce women, occasionally Picasso's Harlequin appears to do the same thing as is alluded to in his famous painting 'Au Lapin Agile', 1905.

Picasso's harlequin also appears as the father of an infant or yearning for paternity, this is strongly associated with the traditional Harlequin and his ability to breast feed his own children which in turn is an allusion to his status as an androgyne.

Picasso also symbolically links Harlequin's wine with pregnancy as alluded to in the 1905 drawing 'Circus Artist and Child,'depicting a mother breast feeding her child with a wine bottle at her feet which has been adapted with a teat to become a baby's feeding bottle.

In the Three Dancers and the 1934 drawing there is a further and quite astonishing cryptic interlinking of this wine and pregnancy symbolism.

Picasso also concealed a number of Harlequins in his most famous painting Guernica. These hidden Harlequins appear to be magically undermining the forces of death in the painting, which is reminiscent of Harlequin's traditional triumph over Death in the Barcelona carnival.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Maestro Antonio Fava

It was by the side of his father, a famous Pulcinella in Scandale, Calabria, Italy, that Maestro Antonio Fava was to develop his passion for Commedia dell'Arte. This love would lead him to become a world-renowned authority on the subject and to create a multi-lingual school, like non other, where international actors come to learn theatrical skills rooted in the Italian Renaissance.

Colleague of Dario Fo, Maestro Fava's professional career began as an actor and musician at The National Theatre of Strasbourg. He later co-founded the Theatre de la Jacquerie in Paris, where he collaborated with the great French writer, Jean-Pierre Chabrol. Returning to Italy, he developed Teatro del Vicolo in Reggio Emilia, where, since 1980, he has directed and performed in over thirty different productions, touring throughout the world including France, Spain, Switzerland, Senegal, Lebanon, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Pakistan, the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain.Maestro Fava has taught and directed internationally including The Oxford Stage Company, England, Insitut dei Teatre di Barcelona, Real Escuela de Arte Dramatico, Madrid, CIP di Tremlan, Switzerland, Exeter University, England, Theatre Populaire Jurassien di Lons le Saunier, France, Museo Cassioli di Asciano, Siena, E'cole Superieure de Theatre-Universite' du Quebec a' Montreal, and New York University.

Maestro Fava recently directed Il Turco in Italia and La Gazza Ladro by Rossini for Il Teatro Marrucino in Chieti, Italy. Maestro Fava has collaborated with International Opera Theater as a librettist for their productions in Città della Pieve, Italy. Continuing this collaboration, he served as librettist for International Opera Theater's production of "La Tempesta", presented in 2006. His seminal book, "The Comic Mask in Commedia dell'Arte", was translated into English in 2005.

His website is:

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pulcinella, the southern Zanni

Pulcinella, often called Punch or Punchinello in English, Polichinelle in French, is a classical character that originated in the Commedia dell'arte of the 17th century and became a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry.

His main characteristic, from which he acquired his name, is his extremely long nose, which resembles a beak. In Latin, this was a pullus gallinaceus, which led to the word "Pulliciniello" and "Pulcinella", related to the Italian pulcino or chick.
According to another version, "Pulcinella" derived from the name of Puccio d'Aniello, a peasant of Acerra, who was portrayed in a famous picture attribued to Annibale Carracci, and indeed characterized by a long nose. It has also been suggested that the figure is a caricature of a sufferer of acromegaly.

Ever white dressed and black masked (hence conciliating the opposites of life and death), he stands out thanks to his peculiar voice, the sharp and vibrant of qualities of which contribute intense tempo of the show. According to Pierre Louis Duchartre, his traditional temperament is to be mean, vicious, and crafty: his main mode of defense is to pretend to be too stupid to know what's going on, and his secondary mode is to physically beat people. Actually Pulcinella is an archetype of humanity, with all its complexities and contradictions.

He is either stupid pretending to be clever, or clever pretending to be stupid, either way, he is always pretending and self-centered. He has no more care for human life than that of a flea. He loves to pick a fight and then to shed blood. He loves food and drink and sex, but will not work for it. He talks about himself in the third person and absolutely cannot keep a secret.

Many regional variants of Pulcinella were developed as the character defused across Europe. In Germany, Pulcinella came to be known as Kasper. In the Netherlands he is known as Jan Klaassen. In Denmark he is Mester Jakel. in Russia he is known as Petrushka (however, Igor Stravinsky composed two different ballets Pulcinella and Petrushka); in Romania, he is Vasilache; and in France Polichinelle, while in England, he inspired the character of Mister Punch of Punch and Judy.

Pulcinella is also the mascot of the Pulcinella Awards, annual awards for excellence in animation, presented at the Cartoons on the Bay Festival in Positano, Italy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Some quotes on Arlecchino

Harlequin proved himself the prince of numskulls from birth, but his stupidity was intermittently relieved by flashes of shrewd wit. -Duchartre

The acting of the Harlequins before the 17th Century was nothing but a continual play of extravagant tricks, violent movements, and outrageous rogueries. He was at once insolent, mocking, inept, clownish, and emphatically ribald. I believe that he was extraordinary agile, and he seemed to be constantly in the air; and I might confidently add that he was a proficient tumbler. – Riccoboni

…he is so absent minded that he searches everywhere for the donkey on which he is mounted, like an old woman who is always hunting for the spectacles perched on her own forehead. – Duchartre

His character is a mixture of ignorance, naivete, wit, stupidity and grace. He is both a rake and an overgrown boy with occasional gleams of intelligence, and his mistakes and clumsiness often have wayward charm. His acting is patterned on the lithe, agile grace of a young cat, and he has a superficial coarseness which makes his performances all the more amusing. He plays the role of a faithful valet, always patient, credulous, and greedy. He is enternally amorous, and is constantly in difficulties either on his own or on his master’s account. He is hurt and confronted in turn as easily as a child, asn his grief is almost as comic as his joy. – Jean-Francois Marmontel (1723-99)

His character is that of an ignorant valet, fundamentally nnaïve but nevertheless making every effort to be intelligent, even to the extent of seeming malicious. He is a glutton and a poltroon, but faithful and energetic. Through motives of fear or cupidity he is always ready to undertake any sort of rascality and deciet. He is a chameleon which takes on every color. He must excel in impromptu, and the first thing that the public always asks of a new Harlequin is that he be agile, and that he jump well, dance and turn somersaults. - Duchartre (Calendrier historique des theatres (1751)

Never pathetic, always knows: he is never the loser. Never just does something. For example, if, in the heat of the moment, his slapstick gets left on the ground, he somersaults to pick it up again. His paradox is that of having a dull mind in an agile body. Since, however, his body does not recognize the inadequacy of the mind which drives it, he is never short of a solution: the fact that he cannot read, for example, does not hinder him from divuldging the contents of a letter. As developed into the French, Arlequin in the mid-17th Century by Domenico Biancolelli, he became more quick-witted. But even then he could only entertain one idea at a time, and never contemplated the consequences of an action or learned from the experience of it. He responds to everything – hunger, love, danger – in a way that is taken to apocalyptic proportions and then forgotten entirely – until the next time. A very Latin temperment… but never malicious. He is very likely to become disguised later in the action, for example as a priest in order to conduct a mock wedding, or as a Turk, a pilgrim, a rich benefactor, or a cross-dressed in order to fulfill a rendevous. – Rudlin

Friday, July 18, 2008

Commedia Dell'Arte

Commedia dell'Arte (Italian: "play of professional artists") is a form of improvisational theatre that began in Italy in the 16th century and held its popularity through the 18th century, although it is still performed today. Performances were unscripted, held outside, and used few props. They were free to watch, funded by donations. A troupe consisted of ten people: eight men and two women. Outside Italy the form was also known as "Italian Comedy".

Conventional plot lines written on themes of adultery, jealousy, old age, and love. Many of the basic plot elements can be traced back to the Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence, some of which were themselves translations of lost Greek comedies of the fourth century BC. Performers made use of well-rehearsed jokes and stock physical gags, known as Lazzi and Concetti, as well as, of course, on-the-spot improvised and interpolated episodes and routines, called burle (singular burla, Italian for joke), usually involving a practical joke. Since the productions were improvised, dialogue and action could easily be changed to satirize local scandals, current events, or regional tastes, while still using old jokes and punch lines. Characters were identified by costumes, masks, and even props, such as a type of baton known as a slapstick. These characters included the forebears of the modern clown, namely Harlequin (English for arlecchino) and Zanni.

The classic, traditional plot is that the innamorati are in love and wish to be married, but one elder (vecchio) or several elders (vecchi) are stopping this from happening, leading the lovers to ask one or more zanni (eccentric servants) for help. Typically the story ends happily, with the marriage of the innamorati and forgiveness for any wrongdoings. There are countless variations on this story, as well as many that diverge wholly from the structure, such as a well-known story about Arlecchino becoming mysteriously pregnant, or the Punch and Judy scenario.