15 March 2023

Egyptian shadow puppetry comes to life

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Sam Bowker

Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Sam Bowker coordinated the unique concert, combining classical and contemporary live music with shadow puppetry. Photo: Chris Roe.

Wagga’s creative and performing arts community’s latest collaboration will feature live music with shadow puppetry.

The medieval Egyptian shadow puppetry The Alchemist’s Jar is “a story long forgotten and has not yet been told”.

Based on The Stone Jar by Riverina author Christopher Halburd and original illustrations by artist Tracey Jones, this mesmerising concert is inspired by medieval Egyptian shadow theatre (called khayal al-zill in Arabic).

Coordinated by Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Sam Bowker, the unique concert combines classical and contemporary live music with shadow puppetry.

“The Alchemist’s Jar is the result of creative collaboration across Wagga Wagga’s arts ecosystem, which started in the Curious Rabbit,” Associate Professor Bowker said.

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“This is a story long forgotten, which has not yet been told. And it will be the best medieval Egyptian shadow concert you have ever seen.

“These rarely seen shadow puppets are exquisite and intricate, but a couple of scenes in The Alchemist’s Jar may cause nightmares for small children.

“By re-crafting them and setting these shadow puppets to imaginative new and classical music, we can tell original stories with ancient storytelling techniques.”

The short story, told through Egyptian shadow puppets, is being brought to life on stage by musicians and singers from the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.

The Wise Astrologer

The Alchemist’s Jar – The Wise Astrologer. Photo: Dr Sam Bowker.

Professor Bowker said The Alchemist’s Jar had been in development for well over a year.

He said every detail was the result of experimental research regarding Islamic art, the history of music, the arts of translation, quotation and composition, and respect for the original story.

“We are honoured to bring this unique story to life, and it has been a privilege to bring together so many talented people across Wagga Wagga’s creative and performing arts community,” he said.

The Elephant under arch

The Alchemist’s Jar – The Elephant under arch. Photo: Dr Sam Bowker.

“Beyond the remarkable shadow puppets, this is a story told with music and song. Some of these were written in the 1720s, or the 19th century, or the 1970s, and others were written in 2023, specifically for this unique concert.

“It’s a vast array of musical sources, but it all comes together very clearly as one original story.”

Associate Professor Bowker said that for those who saw the original concert The Thief of Stars at the Curious Rabbit in 2021, The Alchemist’s Jar had just as much soul, twice as many musicians, and four times as many shadow puppets.

The Goldsmith Encaged

The Alchemist’s Jar – The Goldsmith encaged. Photo: Dr Sam Bowker.

The Alchemist’s Jar is presented by The Green Beetle Company in collaboration with the Riverina Conservatorium of Music (Assai Quartet), Eastern Riverina Arts, the Curious Rabbit, the Booranga Writer’s Centre, and creative arts researchers at Charles Sturt University.

It features the operatic voices of Melinda Bowker and Erin Brown, combined with live chamber music by the Assai Quartet of the Riverina Conservatorium of Music.

Riverina Conservatorium of Music’s Dr Harold Gretton said the Assai Quartet was excited to bring the story to life.

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“It’s such an unusual and eclectic range of music, but the combination really works,” he said.

“We’re performing songs from the 18th century through to 2023, including original pieces by the Assai Quartet.

“Brett Thompson will perform on flute, Kara Williams on bassoon, and Rhiannon Xeros on violin.” Dr Gretton will play classical guitar.

Tickets for the concert are available via the Civic Theatre Box Office, priced at $20 or $15 for concessions. Viewing times are Friday 17 March at 7 pm, Saturday 18 March at 11 am and Saturday 18 March at 7 pm. The tickets are subsidised by a Wagga Wagga City Council community events grant.

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