Basil Twist & Irina Niculescu In Conversation

World renown directors, Basil Twist and Irina Niculescu have been friends for decades. Enjoy this intimate conversation about directing puppetry for the world stage, moderated by Jean Marie Keevins

This event is presented as part of our “Puppet Tuesday” series.

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Our Pay What You Can format for our “Puppet Tuesdays” Series makes it possible for everyone to attend. Please pay as much as you can so that others who cannot will still be able to participate.

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Irina Niculescu Work Sample

About The Speakers

Irina Niculescu

Irina is a theatre director recognized internationally for her productions combining: actors, puppets, dancers, singers, and live orchestra, and creating new forms of dramaturgy. Captivated by the capacity of the puppet to transmit emotions she has explored the relation between the actor and the puppet. She created shows in Romania, U.S.A., Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, Poland, Canada, Taiwan. She conceived and implemented a three-year training program in the arts of puppetry in Riksteatret, Norway, forming a new generation of puppetry performers and directors (between 1986-89).

Niculescu was guest assistant professor in theatre directing at Institutul de Artă Teatrală şi Cinematografică Ion Luca Caragiale (today U.N.A.T.C.) Bucharest from 1980 to 1984. She also taught directing and puppetry performance at the Instituto de Teatro in Seville, Spain, 1985, 1986 and 1988; the O’Neill Theatre Centre, USA, 1986-1987; Riksteatret, 1987-2000, École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette, Charleville-Mézières, France, 2001, University of Quebec in Montreal, 2008-2014 as well as well as in Norway, Argentina, Taiwan, India, and in universities and schools across the USA.

She designed, and piloted a 3-year cultural exchange and coproduction between Switzerland and Romania funded by the Swiss Department of State, 1994-97.

As Associate Director with Madcap Productions, 2007-2013 Cincinnati, created the chamber operas: Master Peter’s Puppet show by Manuel De Falla and Amahl and the Night Visitors, by Gian-Carlo Menotti, in co-productions with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the play “The Dragon” an adaptation after Evgeni Schwarz, with Madcap Puppet Theatre and The Know Theatre (2011). 

Irina Niculescu has been a member of the UNIMA Commission for Professional Training from 2010 to the present and she served as Vice-President of UNIMA-USA. 

In 2015, on behalf of UNIMA International she conceived and organized the First International Meeting on Training in the Arts of Puppetry in Charleville-Mezieres, France, with the participation of master artists, researchers, school directors and pedagogues, and students from 25 countries. 

In 2017, she contributed to the conception and organization of the Second International Meeting on Training in the Arts of Puppetry in, Romania, and acted as the Artistic Co-director of the Puppeteers of America National Festival in Minneapolis. 

She worked on the concept and program of the 3rd International Meeting on Training in the Arts of Puppetry, which took place in Florianopolis, Brazil in 2019, hosted by the University of the State of Santa Catarina.

Her latest productions and teaching took her to India, and Canada. At present she prepares two productions for Romania.

List of places: 

United States (Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, University of New Mexico Albuquerque, University of Stamford CONN, University of Michigan Ann Arbor (International Center for World Performance Studies), Eastern Michigan University, Xavier University, Madcap Cincinnati, Madcap Puppet Theatre Cincinnati

Romania (Bucharest, Academy of Theatre and Cinema, and other professional structures), Canada (Toronto and Montreal), France (Ecole Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette, Charleville-Mézières 

Her artistic work is mentioned in the World Encyclopaedia of Puppetry Arts, published in 2002 and updated 2016. https://wepa.unima.org/en/irina-niculescu/

CARTE BLANCHE MARIONETTES, Compagnie Irina NiculescuIn 2001, Irina Niculescu created the non-profit organization CARTE BLANCHE MARIONNETTES – COMPANIE IRINA NICULESCU. The goals of the company are to promote theatre with masks, puppets and video generated images, to explore new forms of theatre and to promote professional training for theatre artists. “The Foal” is the company’s first production. The show was performed in Geneva, Lausanne, and toured in Switzerland. In September 2003 « The Foal « participated in The World Festival of Puppet Theatres in Charleville-Mézières, France. Following its success in Charleville-Mézières, « The Foal » was invited to perform in September 2004 at the International Festival of Jonquière Saguenay, Quebec.

Basil Twist

PARIS, FR – JANUARY 16, 2021 : Close up portrait of Basil Twist on the stage of the Opéra Comiqe of Paris.

A native of San Francisco, Basil Twist is a third-generation puppeteer. He is the sole American to graduate from the École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mezieres, France. Basil’s showmanship was spotlighted in New York by The Jim Henson International Festival of Puppetry with his award winning “The Araneidae Show.” This recognition coupled with the ground-breaking and multiple award-winning “Symphonie Fantastique,” Twist was revealed as a singular artist of unlimited imagination.

Highlights of subsequent work have included “Petrushka” (commissioned by Lincoln Center) and “Dogugaeshi” (The Japan Society), “Behind the Lid” (Silver Whale Gallery) with the late Lee Nagrin and “Arias with a Twist,” co-created with nightlife icon Joey Arias. “Symphonie” and these productions have now toured throughout the world. In 2012 a cohort of Washington D.C. presenters hosted a retrospective of his work, featuring four productions and an exhibition. His site-specific commission “Seafoam Sleepwalk” for the WOW Festival at the La Jolla Playhouse was a festival favorite. “Rite of Spring” was commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts & made its world premiere at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013, appearing also at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. “Sisters Follies” was created for Abrons Arts Center’s 100th Anniversary in 2015.

Deeply musical in nature, Mr.Twist thrives in the world of Opera. He just created a new Titon et l’Aurore with Les Arts Florissants at the Opera Comique in Paris. He recently collaborated with Phelim McDermott on “Aida” at English National Opera, Geneva Opera House and Houston Grand Opera, with Dick Bird on “Otello” premiering at Vienna’s WIENER STAATSOPER. A new production of Ottorini Respighi’s “La Bella Dormente Nel Bosco” was created with the Gotham Chamber Opera for Lincoln Center Festival and Spoleto USA Festivals, Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” for the Houston, Atlanta and Michigan Operas. De Falla’s “Master Peters Puppet Show” was commissioned by Eos Orchestra and performed with The Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Twist is a frequent collaborator with the late Lee Breuer/Mabou Mines. From “Peter and Wendy” to “Red Beads” to his debut at The Comedie Francaise as production designer and co-director with the Breuer for “A Streetcar named Desire.”

In dance most recently, he created the sets and puppetry for the world premiere of “Dorothy and The Prince of Oz” for The Tulsa Ballet and collaborated on a new “Nutcracker” with Christopher Wheeldon for The Joffrey Ballet. Previously with Mr. Wheeldon, Twist designed puppetry for “Cinderella” at the Dutch National Ballet & San Francisco Ballet, and “A Winter’s Tale” for the Royal Ballet. He premiered “Darkness and Light” with Pilobolus and created the title role in “Wonderboy” with The Joe Goode Dance Company. He adapted his “Petrushka” to concert hall staging with full orchestra for the Fort Worth & Phoenix Symphony. This staging of “Petrushka” also made a spotlight appearance at City Center’s “Fall for Dance”

Twist created the unforgettable siblings in Paula Vogel’s play “The Long Christmas Ride Home” at Trinity Repertory, The Long Wharf and The Vineyard Theatre (including directing and designing the West Coast Premiere at The Magic Theatre), the play within the play for Oskar Eustis’ “Hamlet” at Shakespeare in the Park and Des Macunuff’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” at the La Jolla Playhouse.

Broadway credits include puppetry design for “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory”, “Oh, Hello!”, “The Addams Family”, and puppetry direction for the beloved “Pee-Wee Herman Show”.

Teaching at leading Universities such as Princeton, Stanford, Duke, New York University Rhode Island School of Design and Brown has been a source of pride. Twist was as a guest lecturer for the U.S. State Dept traveling throughout Russia. His work has received an Obie, Drama Desk Awards, UNIMA Awards, Bessie Awards, a New York Innovative Theatre Award, and a Henry Hewes Award. He has been honored with a MacArthur, the “Rome Prize” from The American Academy in Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship, USA Fellowship, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and his productions have received numerous grants from the Jim Henson Foundation.

Twist guides the internationally recognized Dream Music Puppetry Program at HERE in NYC.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”


~Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

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