Pomegranate Jam: A Shadow Ballet combines puppetry and dance, with live music, and multi-cultural influences including Balinese dance, Indian music and Greek myths.
The story is based on the myth of Persephone, carried off to the Underworld by Hades, to the great distress of her mother Demeter. As Persephone ate part of a fruit from the Underworld – a pomegranate – she had to remain there for part of the year, hence the changing seasons because, when Demeter, goddess of the harvest, mourns her daughter, crops do not grow on the earth.
In this version, presented by CalArts Festival Theater, Persephone’s journey is more in her own hands – she chooses to follow Hades and then faces the consequences of that decision. This story unfolds upon a screen on which scenery, puppets and dancers are shadowed silhouettes, with some colour used for changing seasons, the pomegranate – here a beautiful, glowing gift – and the difference between the upper and lower worlds.
The puppetry is kept fairly simple, with arms and legs moved by visible rods and, sometimes, visible manipulators. The characters are initially introduced with written titles, but thereafter all is in the music – played upon violin and mouth organ – and the figures being watched. There are clear gestures of love and care between mother and daughter, wonderfully reversed later, and details of skirts and headwear define characters both as puppets and dancers.
Pas de deux between Persephone and Hades are particularly effective, with intricate hand movements and fine use of the shadow pictures created. Demeter’s pain and quest are clear, but some of her shapes are less successful in this silhouette world, and the choice to use mouth movements for silent speech for her, and at one point Persephone, jarred within the ballet – for this reviewer. There are times when characters approach over the projected light which, while interesting, usually broke the feel of the piece and of where they were coming from.
The beauty of Pomegranate Jam lies in the simplicity of its story and the telling of it, which includes great visual detail without being cluttered – each element is necessary to the telling. Music and movement combine, with variety in pace overall, and the changes between media, even when requiring curtain shifts, are pretty fluid.
A fine story, though told in half an hour (rather than the billed 45 minutes), Pomegranate Jam leaves visual impressions likely to last.