Puppeteer-Mime-Dancer Ilka Schönbein - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Puppeteer-Mime-Dancer Ilka Schönbein

Puppeteer-Mime-Dancer Ilka Schönbein

By Marie Doezema


Because the gingerbread house in the forest calls to you, even though you know better.

By Marie Doezema

At times the shows of puppeteer-mime-dancer Ilka Schönbein are playful and fanciful. Other times the viewer feels trapped in a nightmare. Schönbein’s puppet shows are uncensored fairy tales — surreal and dark, full of psychological trepidation, equally intriguing to both children and adults.

Schönbein’s piece Métamorphoses, performed to accordion music and a child’s singing, depicts a harsh reality. Schönbein, herself a ghostlike puppet in the piece, stands behind an ageless, pale, frail creature — her puppet. As she begins to maneuver the puppet, the creature comes to life. Kicking her legs and starting to dance, the puppet gains expression in her movements and becomes believably, alarmingly human.

We should know also that the paw of the wolf is not always black and her voice is ‘sometimes’ fine and soft.

At the end of the segment, the puppet gives a victorious bow before picking up a saucepan and shaking it. The sound of coins against metal is desolate, beseeching. Schönbein remains still for much of the performance. Occasionally, she seems to be in conversation with the puppet, leaning over to whisper into the puppet’s ear or sharing a meaningful glance.

Métamorphoses made a name for Schönbein in Europe, ultimately earning her a grand prize from the jury at the 1994 Mimos festival, an international mime festival in Périgueux, France. Prior to Schönbein’s arrival in France, she studied eurythmics at a Rudolf Steiner school in Hamburg, Germany, and puppetry with renowned master Albrecht Roser in Stuttgart. In France, she brought her haunting talents to street corners and public squares before starting to perform in internationally recognized theaters and festivals.

At a Paris performance of Schönbein’s most recent show, Otherwise I’ll Eat, last year, children and adults alike were apprehensive and mesmerized during the show, which is as psychological as it is physical. Was it really intended to be a puppet show for small children? The program poses the question, before providing the rather unreassuring answer:

“Certainly. But we, the adults, we know that this history always repeats itself and around the world. And we, the adults, should well know that the bad wolf is also hidden in our own home and even within each of us. And we, the adults, we should know also that the paw of the wolf is not always black and her voice is ‘sometimes’ fine and soft. So let’s be on our guard, otherwise.…”

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