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Franco-Argentine puppetry conjures up Argentina’s Dirty War

media Les Folles - Las Locas - The Crazy Ladies a play by Nancy-based Company Mue/ette which incorporâtes local stitching traditions of north-east France into the production about Argentina's Mothers and Grandmothers of the Place of May in Buenos Aries. David Siebert

Silencio es Salud (Silence is Healthy) and Cross-Stitch are two short plays directed and performed by Delphine Bardot and Santiago Moreno, the Company Mue/ette. They premièred at the World Puppetry Festival in Charleville-Mézières which opened on Saturday.

A one-man band, special effects inside a transparent-faced bass drum and archive film footage go into a short educational show about Argentina’s so-called Dirty War.

From Peron in the mid-1970s to Galtieri in 1983, who lost power shortly after the Falkland’s War, one dictatorship followed another in the big Latin American country. Dissent was not tolerated.

The Dirty War was a crackdown on the general population that led to the forced disappearances of, according to some calculations, as many as 30,000 people, including children of the dissidents, or suspected opponents.

Santiago Moreno, Argentinian-born and living in France, sets out to open the eyes of audiences young or less young, through his music and illusions on stage in Silencio es Salud. It is a serious political piece which allows little room for escape.

“My family lived through the dictatorship. Today, human rights in Argentina have taken a bit of a step backwards,” he told RFI

“The interest of this piece is not to tell the story, but to give people keys to go further and find out about it themselves. I am playing the role of someone searching, like where you see me in a film at the same time as the film of the women marching for their lost children. I am walking in a clock-wise direction. The women walk in an anti-clockwise direction.”

Delphine Bardot is the other half of the Company Mue/ette with Moreno.

Moreno’s piece follows Cross Stitch. In this play Bardot gracefully evokes the pain and the determination of the Mothers of May Square, in Buenos Aries, where mainly women, but also some fathers, march around an obelisk once a week, still demanding the authorities return their children.

“The women walk in an anti-clockwise direction to show they are going back in time, they try to retrace history to understand what happened to them,” she said.

“Santiago tries to go back in time into the images, while being in the present. We want the spectator to go back and forth between the past and the present… Remembering is a constant duty. We have to go on talking about the cruelty of the dictators and the importance of the power of money.”

Holding up graphic learning cards Moreno swiftly and silently reminds the audience today of the so-called Condor operation, which involved several countries under dictatorships in Latin America in the last century, not so long ago.

Both pieces rely on archival footage, or photographs, but Bardot worked with a local specialized embroidery school on surprising special effects with dual-sided sequins to evoke blood and tears for example.

She also focused on graceful movement and music, the rhythm of a sewing machine, and a headscarfed mask, behind the stories of Argentina’s mothers of May Square. She describes their loss and the transformation of sadness into combative spirit.

Silencio es Salud and Cross-Stitch form a diptych under the name, Les Folles, from the Spanish, Las Locas.

In English, it means The Crazy Ladies. Critics of the Mothers of May Square Association refer in this way to the women, with their symbolic white head-scarfs made out of their childrens’ cherished nappies. Today they have become the Grandmothers of May Square also. Delphine Bardot explained,

“They have fought to recover their children’s children, either born in detention as some women were pregnant when arrested or taken away from what the authorities deemed a mind-corrupting milieu. The children were given to approved parents.

“Now in their 40s. The Grandmothers have fought to get DNA-tests done and have managed to identify more than 100 out of the 500 children they claim were torn away from their real families.”

Many of the object, movement and puppet theatre at the Festival remain true to the old satirical Punch and Judy or Polichinello style. Masks, objects and the art of stage, create a magical distance where sometimes even the most serious subjects can be treated with beauty and even humour.

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