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GRAHAMSTOWN – DRAMA (article first published : 1999-06-27)

The 1999 Standard Bank National Arts Festival presents the South African première of The Return of Ulysses (Il Ritorno d'Ulisse), the latest collaboration between artist William Kentridge and the Handspring Puppet Company. This is a continuation of the work Kentridge has explored in both Woyzeck on the Highveld andFaustus in Africa, uniting actors, puppets and projected images to reflect his ideas on the nature of theatre.

It is conceived as a small-scale opera in which singers and puppets jointly create a 20th century Ulysses. With seven singers, six musicians, five manipulators and ten puppets, Kentridge and Handspring combine with French musical director Philippe Perlot to revive the Monteverdi classic. Directed as a chamber piece using authentic baroque instruments, the diversified ensemble present a poignant work of art which remains true to the spirit of the original.

The set is based on a 17th century circular anatomical theatre, drawing inspiration from Rembrandt's celebrated "Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp". A delirious Ulysses (as a 20th century man) lies in a hospital bed in modern-day Johannesburg. As his mind becomes flooded with images of himself as a Greek hero, his body images are projected onto a screen above the stage in the form of CAT-scans, X-rays and animation.


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