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A giant horse's head made in the first puppet workshop this month
A giant horse's head made in the first puppet workshop this month, signifying the Chinese Year of the Horse. Miranda Glasser

The Jig's up for puppet man

This year’s giant puppet parade will be artistic director Jig Cochrane’s last – having worked on the project since its inception in 2007, he will be handing over the reins from next year to student artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak Visual Arts School in Battambang.

“We thought the only way we can keep this thing going is without us, so we have to train local people to be able to do it,” says Cochrane. “Now we’re training up 15 students so that next year at least five of those 15 will come back, and ten new students will come so there’ll always be a good base.”

He says the plan has always been to make the project self-sufficient, or as he puts it, “funded, run and enthused locally.”

One of the Phare students, Heng Sereysokun, is being lined up to take over as artistic director.

“Sokun is an incredibly talented artist and he is leading the Battambang students,” Jig says. “They’re doing a lot of 3D art now so the talent base is there, and they’re really keen.”

rtistic director Jig Cochrane (left), next year's artistic director Heng Sereysokun and project director Stuart Cochlin
Artistic director Jig Cochrane (left), next year's artistic director Heng Sereysokun and project director Stuart Cochlin at the Wat Damnak workshops. Miranda Glasser

Project director Stuart Cochlin adds that Cochrane has taken something of a back seat this year.

“This is the first time that the students are running the workshops all on their own,” he says. “Jig’s just overseeing, and stepping in when he needs to.”

The puppet project’s workshops kicked off last Saturday in Wat Damnak pagoda gardens, where kids made the first two of eight puppets: a white, black and gold horse, and an orange cricket.

“The designs slowly flow in through the year,” Cochrane says. “We haven’t done a cricket before – people eat those on the street all the time. It’s the Chinese Year of the Horse so we’ve got this tiny little jockey riding this enormous horse. There’s a sound system in each puppet, so there’ll be clip-clopping on that one.”

He says that this year the puppets’ dimensions have to be altered slightly, so that the puppets are no higher than three metres off the ground.

“We have to be a bit lower than previous years because there are lots of obstacles around town, lots of low cables with fairy lights on, so we’re changing the height.”

Other puppets include a black-shanked douc langur monkey, a sun bear and a tailorbird.

Stuart says, “There’s the tailorbird, which is a newly discovered species in Cambodia, and the sun bears which are endangered – the people from Free the Bears have come up and are giving a big talk on the subject. And we have the black douc langur monkey which is also endangered.”

One of the ’stars’ of last year's puppet parade, the spitting cobra
One of the ’stars’ of last year's puppet parade, the spitting cobra. JESSICA LIM

He adds that the cricket puppet which was made with the combined skills of children of the staff of two leading hotels, Shinta Mani and La Residence d’Angkor, plus children from Green Gecko.

Stuart says that this year the team is aiming for more of a carnival feel, with more musicians than ever taking part including Bloco Malagasy, an all-female, Madagascan drumming group on its Asian tour.

“We’re trying to build bridges so that this becomes more of a carnival,” he says. “On the parade night we have Bloco Malagasy joining in, and we have the musicians from Phare circus joining this year. They’ll be doing a performance on Pub Street half an hour before the parades start and then they’ll be joining the actual parade itself.

“Then we’ve got the usual musicians coming from the scout band. What we’re hoping in the future is to have more of a carnival atmosphere; it’s just getting bigger and bigger.”

The Giant Puppet Parade starts at 7pm on February 22, preceded by a performance by Phare musicians at 6.30pm on Pub Street.

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