“AVATARA” – by Duda Paiva

by Gergana Traykova

Production team

Concept & Directed by Shailesh Bahoran & Duda Paiva
Choreography Shailesh Bahoran and Duda Paiva in collaboration with the dancers
Puppets and set design Duda Paiva & Cat Smits
Dancers Simon Bus, Balder Hansen, Yordana Rodriguez, Marchano Sarijoen, Ser Sebico & Yashasvi Shrotriya
Lighting design Mike den Ottolander
Composer Wilco Alkema & Rik Ronner
Suits Evita Rigert
Consultant Kim Kooiman

The performance AVATARA by Duda Paiva and Shailesh Bahoran is an almost sacred dance between life and non-life, between truth and fiction, between desire and possibility, where the dancer and the puppet meet to experience together the extraordinary story of our existence.

Similar to Duda Paiva’s previous performances, such as “Holy” at the Metropolitan Puppet Theater, “AVATAR” is woven with reflections on the modern world. In general, we see points of contact between the two performances in the vivid expressiveness of the dolls, which serve as symbols of human emotions, pains and contradictions. And while “World” focuses on intimate family relationships, “AVATARA” examines the internal human struggles under a microscope.

The authors of the play provide a key, opening the door to different interpretations of its message, using the ambiguous meaning of the word “avatar”. Besides the standard concept of creating a digital alter ego, the word also carries a historical, religious meaning in Hinduism, symbolizing the descent of a deity to earth. This ambiguity gives the spectacle a broader and philosophical dimension, uniting the modern image of human identity with the ancient notion of the divine presence on earth. In combination with the associative nature of the performance, a clear interpretation of the images and movements cannot be allowed. It is an artful combination of modern hip-hop and pop movements, intertwined with legends, myths and references to the need of modern man to construct different images of himself.

With the appearance of the first puppet on stage, which seems to be born together with the actor from a block of foam resembling a monolith, we also see the battle between the human body and the puppet.

The structure of the performance is formed around three duels between a puppet and a human, where the two bodies compete for supremacy over consciousness. The doll takes the role of an outgrowth of the human figure, a burden that he – the man – strives to remove from himself. Release from the burden of the doll is not a happy ending, but rather a breath of peace in which the person is left alone, freed from the secondary personality that exists in parallel with him. The performance is performed on a clean, almost empty stage, in which the central focus is three vertically placed metal frames, on which the puppets will later be hung to become a special picture, giving rise to the urge to release.

Thanks to the physical training of the artists and the synergy between choreographer Shailesh Bahoran and puppeteer-director Duda Paiva, these movements rise above the notion of contemporary dance. The actors-dancers in the performance “AVATARA” do not just perform the choreography to music; their bodies move like a kind of cardiogram that captures every inner pulsation and expresses it through highly stylized movements.And the combination between the choppy popping movements and the puppets gives birth to a spectacle in which each picture turns into a whole universe, the universe of “me” and its alter ego.

This impression is also emphasized by the bright individuality of the dolls, which seem to reproduce specific human images with characteristic figures. It is important to note that when some of the puppets are presented on stage, they appear as a ball that gradually unfolds and takes on a human form. This approach to introducing them into the show not only presents them as objects, but creates the illusion of their life and evolution.

Most impressive, however, remains the scene in which the artists put masks on the body of one of the artists, turning him into a sort of multifaceted God who is both everything and nothing at the same time. The symbolic act of creating this multi-faceted image raises questions about the complex relationships between the individual and society and the need for acceptance and affirmation. This scene prompts a rethinking of human nature, identity and social relationships in the context of today’s world.

“AVATARA” remains in my mind as a poetic allegory for the modern world, expressing our inner battle with ourselves, the need for legitimation and the masks we choose to wear. It is all that life is—the struggle with our own desires and possibilities and our encounters with opposite desires and possibilities.

Funded by National Culture Fund.