Twenty years ago, Basil Twist wowed audiences with his mesmerizing abstract fantasy Symphonie Fantastique, presented in a small basement space at the HERE Arts Center in Soho. Twist, then 28, conjured up a beguiling and phantasmagoric world inspired by the evocative music of Hector Berlioz’s 19th-century composition of the same title. Aided by lights, dyes, and bubbles, he created his magic by manipulating pieces of fabric, feathers, plastic, vinyl, and fishing lures—all suspended in a small tank filled with water.
In the two decades since, Twist has come into his own as a master puppeteer and international theater artist, continuing to make his own distinctly individual works while also collaborating with other artists both on and off Broadway, as well as in the ballet world. He also made a small foray into the world of Hollywood, contributing to Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. His dazzling creativity has been honored with Obie, Drama Desk, and Bessie awards, as well as a 2015 MacArthur “Genius” grant.
Proving you can go back to the past, Twist has returned to HERE to recreate his original 1988 career-making triumph. This time, Symphonie Fantastique is presented at the theater’s main stage, with five puppeteers working in a water tank double the size of the one featured in the original production and with the Berlioz score performed live with dramatic flair by pianist Christopher O’Riley (host of NPR’s From the Top). As an additional perk, Twist pulls back the curtain to allow audience members to visit backstage after the show to meet the puppeteers and discover how the magic is created.
Recently, I got to sit down with Twist to discuss his work, new and old, and the direction he’s going in as he approaches 50.