Acclaimed Israeli Artist Shows the Dark Side of Puppet Theater

In her award-winning works, Yael Rasooly strives for 'sweet as saccharine and cruel as a Grimm fairy tale.'

Tamar Rotem
Tamar Rotem
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Tamar Rotem
Tamar Rotem

Anyone who has not yet heard of Israeli artist Yael Rasooly is probably unfamiliar with the field of puppet theater for adults – although that is only a narrow description of what this multifaceted independent artist does. Rasooly, one of the most successful Israeli theater artists, is currently on a performance tour in Europe, which will continue until 2015. But next week she will be performing in Tel Aviv, at Hahanut Theater Gallery (on September 15 and 16). In a recent interview at a Tel Aviv cafe, 30-year-old Rasooly sounded nothing like the domineering secretary with the icy glances that she played in "Paper Cut."

She created that show in 2009. It centers around the character of Miss Ruth Spencer, a secretary who excessively sharpens pencils and is abusive to anyone who schedules a meeting with her boss. She is at the bottom of the office hierarchy, and is hopelessly in love with her boss, finding refuge in fantasies about movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s. She has performed it at over 40 festivals, including the New York Fringe Festival, where it was awarded a prize two years ago.

Rasooly has also won kudos for another play, “The House by the Lake,” performed at France’s Avignon Festival, a leader in the field of puppet theater. She is in the running for the Young Artist’s prize for that play, with the winner to be announced at the end of the month.

Rasooly is inspired by cinema and animation, and her classical music education is evident in her works. She says that in her performances there is "saccharine sweetness and cruelty as in the Grimm's fairy tales."

As opposed to "Paper Cut," which is light and entertaining, "The House by the Lake" is, as she puts it, "a legend about the Holocaust." She created it together with Yaara Goldring and stars in it, alongside two other actresses. Her repertoire also includes "How Lovely," a play for an actress and an old cello, and "The Gramophone Show," in which she sings jazz.

Artistic beginnings

Rasooly moved to Toronto with her family when she was five years old. She studied in a school for the arts, began singing in a choir and attended concerts and operas with her father. The family returned from Canada to Jerusalem when she was 10. After completing high school Rasooly studied stage design in London, and was enchanted by a show she saw in the city, which combined puppet and object theater with a circus. On her first vacation from her studies she traveled to the World Puppet Theatre Festival in Charleville-Mézières, France and watched shows form morning until evening.

In 2003 she returned to Jerusalem and enrolled in the School of Visual Theater, then joined the workshop of German artist Ilka Schönbein, who accepted only 10 puppeteers from all over the world. The subject of the workshop seemed to have been invented for her: The dark side of fairy tales.

"She one of the greatest in her field," says Rasooly. "A street artist who lives in all kinds of holes. She's all skin and bones. At the time she was living in a hostel for the brain damaged. And her studio was also there, a space where dozens of gloomy masks inspired by World War II were hanging." When she completed the workshop the two collaborated on a joint show that didn't work out in the end.

Rasooly has also worked with the Forman brothers, the sons of film director Milos Forman, who have a theater on a wooden boat, on which she performed "Paper Cut."

"The moment a show ends and I have to bow is a very ambivalent moment of transition," says Rasooly. "Artists want to be applauded, but sometimes I have a strong feeling of the emptiness that follows. Then I return, sit down on the stage and speak to people. I want to understand who they are and what they experienced."

Yael Rasooly as the bitter secretary in her award-winning production "Paper Cut."Credit: Boaz Tzipor

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