National puppeteer of Iceland

National puppeteer of Iceland

Puppeteer has the whole woods in his hands

National puppeteer of Iceland, Bernd Ogrodnik brings Peter and the Wolf to life at Vernon Performing Arts Centre Feb. 23.

Many know the story of Peter and the Wolf from the Disney animated film, which originally came out in 1946. That version featured numerous changes to the original story that was created by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, known for his ballets, as a symphony for children, complete with a spoken narration and full orchestra.

In Prokofiev’s version (spoiler alert!),  the duck eaten by the wolf does not magically reappear like in the Disney film, says Figura Theatre’s Bernd Ogrodnik.

And it’s the Prokofiev version that local audiences, young and old, will enjoy when Ogrodnik brings the musical play to life using wooden carved puppets in the Russian/European tradition for the next and season finale kids series show at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, Sunday, Feb. 23.

“The outcome is not a Hollywood or Walt Disney production, which tends to change and bend and ‘cutify’ it,” said Ogrodnik, who originally trained as a classical musician and has been a prominent figure in the world of puppetry since 1986.

He is currently the national puppeteer of Iceland, his homeland.

Ogrodnik’s production is a Russian tale with all its original music and story-telling charm presented by the means of the puppet theatre. It is also an ode and introduction to Prokofiev.

“I have always loved the music Prokofiev created for Peter and the Wolf. I get bored very quickly with unchallenging music, but as often as I have listened to this piece, it keeps fascinating me,” he said.

“The score for Peter and the Wolf is actually rather challenging to perform. Though written for children, it is full of surprises and difficult solos… just listen to the flute representing the bird.”

Originally created for the National Theatre of Iceland, Figura Theatre’s Peter and the Wolf features a set of original wooden table-top puppets, designed and created by Ogrodnik, who says they took a long  time to design and carve, but are rather simple in nature.

“The puppets are jointed in a way so that I am able to position them in different places and postures throughout the set. As the theme of the story (and music) is always focusing on one character at the time, it allows me to place the figures not in action into a fixed position.”

Ogrodnik compares his technique to that of a child playing with a toy.

“Observing a child playing with a little toy action-hero, you will notice that the child himself will turn into this action hero, his demeanor, face and voice are entirely dedicated to this character. That is what I am doing in this production,” he said. “The great side effect, of course, is that the audience, even the adults, can really understand and relate to this way of performing, as we have played this way in our youth. We all have been puppeteers at some point in our lives.”

A one-man show, Ogrodnik is currently taking his puppets and set, made of plywood with a painted backdrop, from Iceland across to Canada.

“It is a travel-set, made to be packed-up into small cases, brought across the ocean from Iceland to North America as check-in luggage of an airplane, and then tossed into the trunk of a rental car in order to reach the most remote regions of this vast country,” he said.

Although he uses some special mechanics like magnets and a rotating wheel to help him position his puppets or to keep them moving without touching them, he sometimes employs a helping hand from the audience, especially at the end of the performance when all the characters are in action simultaneously.

“The performance delights audiences of all ages. Though nothing really frightening will happen on stage, the youngest are always best accompanied by grown-ups,” said Ogrodnik, “Grown-ups, though, will not need the excuse of being accompanied by small children to enjoy the music and story of Peter and the Wolf.

There are two limited-audience performances of Peter and the Wolf to choose from, starting at 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $12 each and available at the Ticket Seller,  250-549-SHOW (7469),