In late 2012, the British theater group 1927 made its debut at the Komische Oper Berlin, collaborating with intendant Barrie Kosky on a dazzlingly inventive Zauberflöte that remains the house’s most popular production. Four seasons later, the innovative troupe was back with an equally ingenious vision for a double-bill of Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Maurice Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortileges.
As with Zauberflöte, this double-bill is a riot of continuous animation (by the brilliant Paul Barritt), combining stop-motion and collage with techniques drawn from silent cinema. Petrushka unfolds as an agitprop carnival featuring screaming Russian-language signage, a zany haunted house ride, a cartoon cutout of a boozy carnival bum as the magician and a cameo from a wacky sideshow called the Canine Cosmonaut Cossacks.
The cast of characters is whittled down to the main love triangle in this reimagining, but even here things are somewhat tweaked. Suzanne Andrade and Esme Appleton, the 1927 team members that share directing credit, have made the object of Petrushka’s affection an acrobat, rather than a ballerina. Accordingly, his rival is a circus strongman, rather than Stravinsky’s Moor. The one thing lacking from this cartoon Petrushka is any sense that this is a ballet, after all.
The whimsy and constant invention that characterize the first part of the evening carry through to the second. With sets by Pia Leong and costumes by Katrin Kath – both of 1927 – this Enfant feels closer in spirit to Zauberflöte, largely due to the clearer dramatic progression of its tableaus and the presence of singers who interacted with the animated wizardry of the production, often singing from off-stage, as in the famous duo miaulé, which takes the form of a cat-and-mouse game between the terrified child and two oversized felines. Aside from this, the intricate inner-workings of the horloge comtoise and the renderings of the animals that populate the work’s second part – bats, owls, dragonflies, frogs and squirrels – are among the production’s most wondrous ingredients.