Chiflón, El Silencio del Carbón: The Silence is Devastating

 

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Photo by Steven Ross taken with permission at the post-performance demonstration.
Chiflón, El Silencio del Carbón: The Silence is Devastating

 By Ross

A fifty-minute show from Silencio Blanco, a Chilean troop of skilled mixed media artists about a mining accident is both intriguing and a bit off-putting. Presented by the HERE Dream Music Puppetry Program, this is a tribute to the people of Lota in Chile,  one of the poorest cities in that country.  With no spoken dialogue throughout, I wondered if I would we be pulled into the quiet beauty of this created imagery or would we be engaged enough to stay with it. I’d say it was a mixed bag of beautiful simplicity. Sometimes the craftsmanship of these talented Chileans was just plain hypnotic and highly emotional, while other times it shifted to the repetitive and slightly banal. But in general, this is  an aesthetic and symbolic endeavor that explores the single story of the families affected by the work done in the dangerous mining communities of Chiflón del Diablo.

 

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This and the cover photo by Lorenzo Mella.
The creations are magical. Each puppet cares such weight of character and emotionality. We quickly stopped noticing the band of black clad performers that handled these personality infused objects (Rodolfo Armijo, Felipe Concha, Dominga Gutierrez, Consuelo Miranda, Astrid Roldan). We started to engage with them as the hard workingmen and women whose life and work revolve around the coalmines of Chile. Their solitude and their never ending anxiety as they work and wait is etched in every detail of moment and form. From the quintessential over-weight boss man behind a desk, to the coughing laborer, and his loving hard working wife, we are quickly coaxed into their world. We see them struggling and taking care of each other, giving love, care, and joy to one another. As conceived and directed with care and humanity by Santiago Tobar (Co-created by Gutierrez) the experience was formed with a great deal of heart from a two-year investigation with the townspeople of Lota, the once center of the coal mining industry in Chile.  The creators wanted to invite us into the dark and difficult daily world of those involved in this dangerous industry. At times the repetitive nature of the puppetry actions caused some disengagement, but in general, the artists with only the assistance of mesmerizing music and sound effects, both recorded (sound design: Ricardo Pacheco; technical production: Tobar) and created by the team, kept us fully attuned and connected.

 

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Photo by Steven Ross.
The story doesn’t end well, no surprise. We join them in that mine and feel their sadness and loss in the dark silence of those tunnels. I only wish in those pivotal moments at the end the visual creation was aligned in a way that we all could see the drama unfold a bit better. It was the only moment that the arrangement worked against itself, and made it difficult to be as engaged as I wanted to be. Overall, this Silencio is loud with emotion and thoroughly engaging.  A beautiful piece of creation that I’m happy to have witnessed.

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Photo by Steven Ross.
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