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2022  N7-8(208-209)
Summer is a time of vacation for theater companies but not for puppets, who are waiting for their audience, sprucing up for the new season. More than 300 such characters now live and serve at the Turkmen State Puppet Theater, and each of them has its own charm and personality, fate and stage history.
And the chief theater artist, Natasha (this is how her first name reads by the document) Allakulyevna Kaylyeva is a guide to this puppet world. Even on vacation, she does not stop thinking about her wards, many of whom were born thanks to her talent as a puppet maker.
Being a professional costume designer, she has been working with puppets for over 16 years now. After graduating from the Turkmen State Art School named after Shota Rustaveli, she conducted extracurricular classes and worked in preschool institutions. When a puppet theater was opened, she joined the theater company team which by that time already included well-known puppet masters of the country, such as Honored Artists of Turkmenistan Yazgeldy Mukhametkuliev and Yelena Pogrebnyak. Even today they continue creating unique puppet characters.
Natasha admits that each of her 115 puppets is dear to her and loved by her in a special way. “They are like my children who are waiting for kind words. Talking to them, saying hello and goodbye every day, I am charged with their positive energy. There is a piece of my soul in my puppets, I don’t trust restoration work to anyone, trying to preserve their original appearance and features that make up their image and character. I want my dolls to evoke positive emotions in people. I make them only when I am in a good mood, because I believe that the positive energy of handwork is conveyed to people, brings them joy.”
It is probably this energy of love that allows puppets to successfully fulfill their responsible mission – entertain and teach, educate and introduce children and adults to the world of beauty. Over the years, the theater building, amazing in its beauty and originality, with a gilded dome and cylindrical turrets with golden domes and niches with colorful figures of characters from Turkmen fairy tales, has become a place of attraction not only for young Turkmen citizens. The theatrical repertoire features performances for different age categories – from preschoolers to gray-haired elders (aksakals).
The puppet company has been in the making for many years. So, there are old-timers of the stage, for example, Sona-daiza and girl dancers – the characters of the very first performances. Girls now often appear in folklore performances, and there is a role to play for the Turkmen aunt Sona in the play “The Cat and the Mouse”.
Foreign puppets – gifts from colleagues from different countries – have also found their place in the theater. Astrakhan puppets live here as a close-knit family – the characters of “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish”, donated along with the script of this famous work by the artists of the Astrakhan Puppet Theater. During their stay in Ashgabat, Astrakhan puppets learned to speak the Turkmen language and keep delighting the audience.
Some puppets appeared in the theater together with artists – graduates of the Russian theater universities as characters of their diploma works. For example, the Bunny-know-it-all got settled in the theater with his friends – characters of the fairy tale “Once upon a time there was a Bunny.” The funny Three Little Pigs and the Little Gosling come from Georgia, and they are also doing well on the Turkmen stage. And the gift of German puppeteers – a blank of a puppet – served as the template for creation of many such puppets.
In turn, Turkmen puppets also find their place in foreign theaters and even museums as gifts. For example, the Turkmen beauty in bright national clothes created by Natasha Kaylyeva was included in the exposition of the Kazan Puppet Museum, which displays characters from various peoples of the world.
Thanks to the growing international cultural contacts, Turkmen puppets have become known far beyond the borders of the country. They have participated in festivals in Russian Astrakhan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Armenia on many occasions, and also met with their foreign colleagues on their own stage during international theater festivals.
The process of puppet making is directly related to the plot of the performance and the plans of directors. One can say that their character is formed even before their birth. The director explains the role of the puppet and what it should do on stage. According to his idea, the artist creates initial sketches, which after corrections take shape as a plasticine preform. Each master has his own secrets. He must not only create a character with its own personality but also make it convenient for a puppeteer to manipulate.
Revealing his secrets, puppet maker Natasha demonstrates this process in detail, showing how the head of a puppet character is formed from plasticine, 8-9 layers of papier-m^ach'e and special glue prepared by her according to her special method, followed by puttying, polishing, oil paint, gouache ... Special makeup is applied to the almost finished form and details are processed, depending on the type of puppet. One has to wait from one to two weeks to see it solid, not deformed. And for marionettes, wood processing is also required.
Puppets have a special mission. First of all, they have to win trust of children – the most demanding spectator – for whom the puppet theater, as a rule, is the first theater in life, planting in them the main ideas about good and evil, beauty and ugliness, friendship and fidelity.
“My own children and now my grandson are my consultants at work, Natasha says. Listening to their opinion, I look at the puppets through the eyes of children. If they approve, then our young spectators also like the image.”
Puppet making is not only an individual but also a team work. Everyone is important here - decorators, carpenters, seamstresses. Since 2005, when the theater was opened in Ashgabat, puppets have been dressed by Kurbangul Khodzhamkulieva and Akgozel Apbasova. Their filigree work is very valuable in creating an original image. Many details of the puppet costume are the finest handmade. For example, this is how the attributes of the Turkmen national dress are created – miniature embroideries, kurte (wedding robe), jorabs (socks), tahya and telpek (headdresses), scarves, dresses, very precise and made with great love. In total, the process of making a solid puppet character takes up to one month.
We found the chief artist at painstaking work – the making of the Hedgehog – the character of the project initiated by theater director Dovran Adyyev together with the national television. The Hedgehog has a very responsible mission. He must become an actor of the national television channel for young viewers and convey useful information to children in a witty and entertaining way. Each needle of the Hedgehog is made by hand. The expression of his “face” is especially thought out, as it should not only be recognizable (media face) but also be loved and trusted.
When asked to finish the phrase “The puppet theater is…” Natasha replied without hesitation “it is magic. And for adults, it is a journey to childhood. And our theater provides such an opportunity.”
The puppet theater is more often presents a stage interaction of puppeteers with puppets (actors play openly, that is, they are not hidden from the audience by a screen or any other object). They wear special masks made in the artist’s workshop. In the 20th century, this interaction was initiated by one of the most famous puppeteers – founder of the State Academic Central Puppet Theater of Russia, director, writer, artist Sergei Vladimirovich Obraztsov. The famous Obraztsov puppets visited the Ashgabat theater for guest performances.
The chief artist picked the interior of the theater foyer for better demonstration of puppets. This is one of the best places in the magnificent building. An original chandelier in the form of the legendary Sumrug bird, as if woven from thousands of colored rock crystal beads, colorful panels, large aquariums with exotic fish, puppets from different times exhibited under glass in original fairy-tale houses with gilded domes, a miniature oriental palace with puppet inhabitants – heroes of folk Turkmen fairy tales, they all create the feeling of being in an unusual wonderful world. This experience brings so much joy and delight to kids!
A variety of puppets are seated on the sofas. Among them is the mischievous boy Yartygulak. The most popular and famous puppet is presented in two versions at once – glove and marionette. Yartygulak appears in the performance of the same name. Next to him are the Gray Goat and the Wolf, the funny Hedgehog, cheerful musicians, Turkmen beauties in national costumes, Masha and the Bear.
The characters of performances for adult spectators are also ready for a photo session – cheerful Japaks, heroes of the plays “Arshin Mal Alan”, “Bridge of Love”, “The Funniest Day and others. Each of them is a character with its own history and even destiny that are seen in their eyes, in their facial expression, in an expressive gesture, as if stopped by the hand of their creator.
The theater carefully preserves everything that has been developed over the years of formation of the puppet genre in Turkmenistan. And the story supported by archival data says that the first “official” mobile puppet theater appeared in the country in 1928. According to the idea of its creators, the theater staged performances on everyday topics that ridiculed shortcomings. That is why they named it “Kemine Theater” after the beloved satirist, hero of funny stories and jokes.
It is noteworthy that in the Kemine Theater puppets were made of wood, and each of them represented a certain type: Rich man (bai), Shepherd, Doctor, Mullah, Herald, Old Woman, Resolute daughter-in-law and other representatives of the society of that time. They were the heroes of the first performance shown to the villagers of the Kyzylatrek region. According to the preserved notes from the press of those years, the success of the performance with only two amateur actors exceeded all expectations. It amazed the audience. According to eyewitnesses, the puppets were so good that people often asked after the performance if these creatures were alive. If not, how do they move? And when they found out that these were just puppets, they expressed amazement. The puppet theater drew the plots for performances from folk tales, works of the classics of Turkmen literature. And this tradition continues.
Over 17 years of its existence, along with the performances of the “golden fund”, the new puppet theater has staged new interesting, spectacular performances, in which new modern puppets “play”. There are about 50 plays in the theatrical repertoire. In recent years, the Turkmen State Puppet Theater has become a major methodological center for regional stage groups, cultural and educational centers and preschool institutions of the country.
In the new season, the theater plans to present three new performances for children, followed by a New Year’s performance at the end of the year. This means that new bright characters will join the team of puppets.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005