Fun from nose to toes

International favorite Teatro Hugo and Ines plays the Phillips Center Black Box Theatre


Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 10:17 p.m.
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Teatro Hugo and Ines creates an entire cast of characters with everything from feet to fingers. The duo performs at the Phillips Center Black Box Theatre this weekend.

COURTESY OF TEATRO HUGO AND INES
Did this week's Scene cover make you do a double-take? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's a foot.
Welcome to the wildly inventive world of Teatro Hugo and Ines, a duo of internationally acclaimed mimes and puppeteers making its Gainesville debut with three weekend performances.
The Phillips Center staff considers Teatro Hugo and Ines a gem on the season's roster, the first in the center's series of family-friendly events. This duo has an undisputed universal appeal, but the performances are intimate and, certainly, original.
Using feet, knees and elbows, and even talking belly buttons, Hugo and Ines will turn their bodies into a vast cast of characters in "Short Stories."
There's the shy infant in a blue-and-white striped playsuit - Ines' fingers - taking tentative steps across the floor and up Hugo's knee to get at a red ball. Then there's the bald guitar player whose proceeds are continually - and comically - stolen by Hugo.
We also watch a puppet begin life and, rather quickly, grow old and feeble. In his realistic struggle to use a cane, it is almost a relief when he sticks his tongue out at the audience at the end. The bellybutton whistles brightly, munches on corn chips and then purses its lips in horror at a scale reflecting its weight gain.
Of all the acts booked this season, this is the one that most thrills Michael Blachly, director of University of Florida Performing Arts.
"I was able to present them when I was at UCLA," he said. "At the time, my three sons were probably 25, 10 and 5. All three of them, including my wife, were totally taken by the performance. Each of them said it was the best thing they had ever seen. That's an incredible testimony to the artistry and the creativity of this incredibly talented couple."
Peruvian Hugo Suarez and Bosnian Ines Pasic met on the streets of Italy in 1984 while Hugo was performing street theater. She was 23; he was 33. They married three months later, and then Hugo began teaching Ines, a classically trained pianist with dexterous hands, his techniques.
In 1986 they founded Teatro Hugo and Ines. The rest, as they say, is history.
"Our inspiration is always life," explained Ines, who said they love communicating with their audience during performances. "In all this experience we find . . . universal situations, universal problems. Our differences are relative. You can eat one kind of food or another, but all people need to eat. You can express your love in certain ways, but all people need to love. That's why people all over the world can relate to our performances.
"It is just a mirror of their own soul." They perform in venues across the United States, Europe and Asia. When they're not on the road, they're home in Lima, Peru, with their children, Raul, 7, and Marina, 4.
Their agent, Deirdre Valente, describes their performances as a "kinetic form of theater mixing mime, puppetry and short narratives." They walk out onto a dark stage, stand in the center and begin.
"They are artists in direct relationship with their audience. 'Two planks and a passion' is how I like to describe them," she said. "The audience must use their imagination as well."
"They are brilliant. They're mesmerizing. They're one of the companies that really works for everybody," said Leslee Asch, producing director and co-curator of the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater. In the five times the biannual festival was held between 1992 and 2000, Teatro Hugo and Ines was the only company invited to perform three times.
"A few groups were invited two times, if that," Asch said.
They are so good, so universally appealing, Asch contends if you don't like their performance, "then there's something wrong with you."
Hugo and Ines take puppetry to an extreme level.
"You're asked to see not just the creatures and the character, but the weaving of the vignettes, the virtuosity of what they're doing," Asch said. "You'll watch them and you'll think, 'Oh God! That's their foot!' "
Julie Garrett can be reached at (352) 374-5049, or e-mail garretj@gvillesun.com.

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