Ten years ago Joel Orr of the Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theater teamed up with a young Two Star Symphony to put together a unique musical puppet production based around Camille Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre. The show was a hit, but just one of the many steps both artists have taken in their long, odd and excellent careers. Now they are finally bringing back one of the most legendary and popular creations for a new generation of Houston audiences.
"We ran into Joel a few months back and got to reminiscing on how well the show had done," said Two Star Symphony's Jerry Ochoa. "We were looking for a way to finish off our residency at 14 Pews, and he mentioned that he still had all the old puppets and sound cues in storage. We still hear from people today how much they loved it. I even had a girl who saw it when she was in high school tell me it was what made her pursue a performance career."
Danse Macabre: The Constant Companion is very typical of the work of both Orr and Two Star. It's a black comedy about death and isolation that Orr says holds up surprisingly a decade later It's a beautiful production that incorporates nearly every form of puppetry in existence, combined with the unique classical music that Ochoa and his mates produce.
"It's scary how well it still fits today," says Ochoa. "The main change is we're much more competent musicians now. We don't even sell the original CD we made of the sound track anymore, we're so embarrassed about it."
They don't plan to be embarrassed this time around. 14 Pews artistic director Cressandra Thibodeaux plans to record the performances for posterity. The one-of-a-kind work of the Houston avant garde puppet scene has benefited from her hands before, and this looks to be another entry into the vast, weird world of our city's artistic output.
The production has been rebuilt from the ground up. The puppets have been refurbished and the sets have been newly built. Orr looks at it as a perfect snapshot of where both he and Two Star were a decade ago as artists.
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"If someone else had been doing what I do, I would have joined them, but there wasn't anyone else, so we had to start from scratch," he says. "This is a take on death and grief. You can have that make it funny. It's a different way of approaching it. Death is inevitable, so why not make them laugh at it? When the laughter is gone, they've still faced it."
For Ochoa it's just the latest in a series of remarkable accomplishments. His short horror film This Neighborhood is having its Barcelona premiere this month. It's a gruesome story about a man in a small town who hears voices commanding him to kill his neighbors, who the voices claim are possessed by an evil spirit. Ochoa's acclaimed music video "Ninth Level" is also screening around the country in festivals, not to mention his recent take on the Frankenstein story in a video for Glass the Sky.
"One day I'm going to do something not morbid or scary," jokes Ochoa. "That'll be really shocking!"
Danse Macabre runs November 6-10 at 14 Pews.