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a role model …

July 31, 2021

As I tried find a way to animate my coat hanger people for my MA in textiles without previous experience in isolation I was at a loss. Until, while researching my childhood memories and scrapbook images of Margot Fonteyn, Alicia Markova and Anna Pavlova I discovered Alexander Shiryaev who died in 1941, was a principal dancer at the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg.  He was also a teacher and choreographer and worked for decades with many of the greatest stars of Russian ballet.  So, while his first love was dance very early in his career and even more remarkable working alone and in isolation, he became the inventor of stop-motion animation using techniques that still astonish professional animators today. (Breumers, B. 2009) He produced hundreds of pencil drawings in sequence and built an ‘optical’ device’ to play the drawings.  Soon after this he moved from 2-densional to 3D and used wire puppets with flexible joints and filmed them frame by frame using a 17.5mm camera.  His puppets only 25cms tall perform on a small proscenium stage.  His longest film at 15 minutes called Harlequin’s Jest is masterful and entertaining.  This aspect of Shiryaev’s work was not seen art but an education tool for his students and kept in storage until many years later.  Now they are considered art and in my opinion jewels of delight. 

I have a long way to go to reach such lofty heights, but it is reassuring that he more than 100 years ago he was able to achieve so much with limited tools and technical knowledge. He was surely ahead of his time.

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