On most days Miami-based artist Pablo Cano, known for fanciful creations fashioned from a mind-boggling array of found objects, might be seen with his head in a garbage dumpster or scouring vintage stores for cool junk. Currently, though, the mild-mannered Cano is caught in the middle of a passionate love triangle -- among some marionettes. He's about to debut his latest sophisticated puppet show, Pablo Cano: The Toy Box, based on La Bote à Joujoux, a 1913 children's ballet by French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy, whose solo piano piece originally was created for marionettes but never reached the stage in the musician's lifetime. It wasn't until 1919, one year after Debussy died, that the work was premiered as a ballet starring a cast of adults.
Sounds like the perfect piece from which Cano -- whom choreographer Katherine Kramer admiringly describes as an "adult innocent with a spirit of inquisitiveness and positiveness in his art" -- can draw inspiration. Nearly every year since the summer of 1997, the artist has put on a marionette production along with an art exhibition featuring the sets and cast members of his shows at North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art. The miniplays are not the freaky Being John Malkovich kind. In fact each presentation is more whimsical and dreamy than its predecessor, highlighting eye-catching characters made from detritus such as garbage cans, exhaust fans, whisks, and umbrellas; a soundtrack of ear-pleasing classical music; and sometimes even live dancers in the mix.
This time around Cano has collaborated again with Kramer, a veteran jazz tap dancer who has performed with legendary hoofers Honi Coles, Savion Glover, and the late Gregory Hines. (The duo also worked together on last year's For Heaven's Sake.) Her rather odd job: to devise the dancers' and marionettes' movements. It's all part of creating what she calls "a very sweet and poignant story with very delicate wonderful music that drives it and animates the characters." Not an easy task considering eight sheep (of the puppet variety) form part of the cast. "We have a bunch of sheep doing a ballet," Kramer cheerfully reports.
New York-based pianist Karen Schwartz, who has played at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden and counts actor Samuel L. Jackson among her students, also put her musical two cents in The Toy Box. And ultimately that box, according to Kramer, holds only pleasant surprises, nothing Pandora-like: "The work is very simple but contains within it some real depth of human emotion. There are these puppets, but they have a very human quality and it's all about what happens when they allow themselves to feel."