Big Bang Festival: In the shadows with puppetmaster Marcelle Hudon

Marcelle Hudon will fly this bird during a performance in Nimble Fingers at the NAC.

Marcelle Hudon works with shadows, but her world is not a dark place. Hudon is a master of shadow puppetry and she brings an artist’s eye to this ancient art form. It is so much more than the shadow bird you might make with your hands during a sleepover at a friend’s house.

Her passion started, she told ARTSFILE, when she was working in television and looking at Hitchcock movies for inspiration.

“Shadow is so important there.” She was already working with puppets but the allure of the shadow drew her to study with an Italian master named Fabricio Montechi and his company Teatro Gioco Vita in 1996.

Afterwards she returned to Canada inspired to explore shadow puppetry and bring her own interpretation to the form that has its roots in many different cultures including China, India and Indonesia.

Marcelle Hudon will be on stage during the performance of Nimble Fingers.

On Monday she’ll work with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in a Big Bang Festival presentation of her imagery called Nimble Fingers.

“You can express with shadow what happens in the subconscious. You can evoke memory. You can evoke dreams and bring them to life. For me shadow is a very powerful way to evoke all those things.”

The way shadow puppetry is presented takes many different forms.

In the concert on Family Day Monday during the Big Bang Festival Hudon says she will be working with small puppets which are similar to traditional Chinese flat puppets.

She will be placing the puppets on a table and shining at light from underneath. The images produced will be projected on a screen as the orchestra plays various pieces of music.

The effect produces “very rich textures,” she said. “It is two-dimensional and we still have a feeling of the shadow.

I am live so it is a performance for me also. In the show I work with the images. I pass the images in front of the camera. I work with drawings and with small objects as well” all in time with the music.

All of which the audience will be able to see, which is also part of the process Hudon follows.

She has worked with an orchestra before but not as the main collaborator. When she was working with the legendary puppeteer Felix Mirbt, whose work has been seen at the National Arts Centre in the past. She says she will bring out one of his puppets at the end of her show in a bit of a tribute.

Hudon said that putting music together with shadow puppets is a natural thing. Both art forms do appeal to the subconscious and to the emotions.

“The idea is to show an image while the music is there and let the audience make the connection between the two.

“My aim is to encourage their imaginations. I want them to come out of the concert and feel like doing something with their 10 fingers. And when they go to bed at night I hope that they will still see the images in their mind’s eye.”

She said she enjoyed working with the composer of one of the pieces, the Vancouver based Jocelyn Morlock. NAC patrons will know her composition My Name Is Amanda Todd which is part of the Life Reflected series. The work being performed on Monday is called Oiseaux bleus et sauvages.

“Jocelyn Morlock’s work is contemporary and it was wonderful to have a chance to ask her what she had in her mind when she composed the piece. She told me it was her first orchestral composition and that opened up her box of colours. Suddenly I had 24 different colours in my palette.

“For the piece by Morlock, I went for a bird travelling. I must say I am very proud of what I did. The idea is to give an image and let texture be a part of the music. It was fun to move back and forth between my imagery and the imagery of the music.

“I did not want the bird to be very elegant. It’s not an eagle. It’s a bird that has its own character,” she said, adding that she hopes it will make people laugh.

Each piece will have a signature image. In addition to the Morlock, NACO will play Debussy’s Syrinx, the first movement of the Fifth Symphony, three Hungarian dances by Brahms, and Saint-Saens Danse Macabre, all of which are very evocative.

For the Brahms, for example, the characters are “cartoonish.” She sees these pieces as sort of an interlude so she will also be moving about changing her set up and make some changes. All of this will be projected.

“I have worked with this technique for a few years. People seem to really enjoy seeing how the images are done.

As a puppeteer for some 35 years, Hudon has worked in and continues to explore many different forms and disciplines. She started with shows for children and moved into television and movies and has been expanding her horizons ever since.

“I started to experiment. I studied visual art and theatre. I like to perform and I am a visual artist. I also like to invent.”

She’s even created her own small puppet orchestra with a collaborator that is animated by sound frequencies and controlled by volume. Watch out NACO.

The Big Bang Festival presents Nimble Fingers
Where: Southam Hall
When: Feb. 18 at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.