Calperformances AdaAva Yi Zhao 1

Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava is Magical Theatrical Storytelling!

above – Pictured: Manual Cinema performs Ada/Ava Friday–Sunday, March 16–18, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse.

Review by Jo Tomalin

Pictured: Manual Cinema performs Ada/Ava
Friday–Sunday, March 16–18, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse.
(credit: Yi Zhao)

Chicago’s award-winning Manual Cinema presented Ada/Ava March 16, 17 and 18, 2018 at Zellerbach Playhouse, Berkeley, produced by Cal Performances. Manual Cinema is an intriguing, inventive company – a performance collective, design studio and film/video production that the program notes state “combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and music to create immersive stories for stage and screen.”

Pictured: Manual Cinema performs Ada/Ava
Friday–Sunday, March 16–18, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse.
(credit: Yi Zhao)

Ada/Ava is a gothic story about two elderly sisters, their interconnectedness, loneliness and a web of haunting memories, past and present. It’s one of the most creative and poignant shows you will ever see, and the five puppeteer performers and three musicians make every second of the one hour performance literally by hand.

Pictured: Manual Cinema performs Ada/Ava
Friday–Sunday, March 16–18, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse.
(credit: Yi Zhao)

Manual Cinema shows are the sum of many techniques that come together to create magical productions, all as the name suggests, made entirely by hand, and specialize in shadow puppetry. The paper shapes, forms and puppets are deftly manipulated and brought to life via old school overhead projectors together with shadows of actors on stage, which are then projected on a large cinema style screen above the stage. It’s a brilliant merging of acting, performance, shadow puppetry, music and visual storytelling. Their stories are usually without words, which opens up their productions to international audiences of all ages, because the images and accompanying music tell the tale.

Pictured: Manual Cinema performs Ada/Ava
Friday–Sunday, March 16–18, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse.
(credit: Yi Zhao)

Puppeteers Kara Davidson and Vanessa S. Valliere play Ava and Ada – as well as bring to life trees, storms and waves, together with three other puppeteers, Sam Deutsch, Charlotte Long, and Drew Dir who is also director, designer, and co-artistic director. The Ada and Ava performers wear gray wigs and have semi masked faces (masks designed by Julia Miller with wigs and costumes by Mieka van der Ploeg), which exaggerate their profiles on the screens. Their own bodies, arms, hands and costumes are very expressive as they interact – going back to when they were children, playing in the gentle waves of the beach, playing chess, enjoying the mystique of the fairgrounds – or return to the present having a cup of tea together.

Pictured: Manual Cinema performs Ada/Ava
Friday–Sunday, March 16–18, 2018 in the Zellerbach Playhouse.
(credit: Yi Zhao)

While the story may sound simple or linear, Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava swiftly moves back and forth in time, changing scenes in a flash – projecting luminous monochromatic images and collages with hints of color, that become abstract, bizarre, dark and tender (design by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia Miller).

Ada/Ava is an entertaining and moving story with sophisticated flourishes, cleverly told through images with beautiful, dramatic music and sound (score and sound design by Kyle Veger and Ben Kauffman), played live by Quinn Tsan (Vocals, guitar, live sound effects) Michael Hilger (synthesizer, guitar) and Kyle Veger (cello, keyboard). Seek this show out – or any other by Manual Cinema  – highly recommended!

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
Member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)
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About the Author

Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is a reviewer for Dance & Theatre at www.ForAllEvents.com & www.FringeReview.com - she works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also a Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for actors, Voice, Storytelling, Business of Acting and Acting and directs. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Trained in Physical Theatre, Masks, Scenography and Devised theatre at the renowned professional acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France. Jo holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →