MCA Presents Silencio Blanco in “Chiflón, El Silencio Del Carbón” SILENCE OF THE COAL Review – Mining Tragedy Told by Puppets

MCA Silencio Blanco
Photo: Tommy Bay

MCA hosts part of Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival features 90 performances in 10 days, January 19-29. A festival of such large reach in only its second year of existence should intrigue local theatergoers—and indeed the Museum of Contemporary Art’s theater was packed on night one for the first performance of “Chiflón, El Silencio Del Carbón” (Chiflón, Silence of the Coal)” by Chilean ensemble Silencio Blanco (White Silence).


Mining Tragedy Story

“Chiflón” is inspired by the central Chilean mining town of Lota, infamous for its dangerous coal mines that employed hundreds from the 1850s to mid 1990s.

The artists spent two years making trips to Lota to interview residents and build puppets with the help of the townspeople themselves.

Chilean writer Baldomero Lillo’s short story of the same name was also fodder for this original work.


Striking images

On a very dark stage, five black-clothed puppeteers manipulate creatures of newspaper and masking tape. The artists are trained in Bunraku, the Japanese art of transferring energy into the object. Indeed your eye quickly forgets about the people and instead focuses in on the actions and movements of the puppets. It’s almost as if they were autonymous beings.

A few magical moments ensue. When the miner descends a steep staircase floating in the air —held aloft by one of the ensemble)—you feel his dread and the doom awaiting him. As the mine shaft collapses around him, coal falling on his head, you feel the pain of entrapment.

All of this happens without words, set to an evocative original sound score by Ricardo Pacheco.

Unfortunately for those seated in the back half of the theater, the puppets are only about 16 inches high, with wooden set pieces to scale. I wondered if any patrons had brought binoculars. Though this intimate piece might have been better served in a more intimate venue, the packed theater indicates a public hungry for the work.




Recommended for: People interested in puppetry and visual thinkers

Not recommended for: Those with difficulty concentrating


Photos:  Tommy Bay and Lorenzo Mello



January 19, 20, 21 @ 7:30pm

January 22 @ 3pm



Museum of Contemporary Art

220 E. Chicago, Chicago



$30 full/ $24 MCA members/ $10 students


For more information on

Silencio Blanco:

Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival:


Susanna Hostetter
Susanna Hostetter is a dancer and teaching artist, exposing hundreds of Chicago Public School students a year to dance through renowned dance education organizations. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Dance from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and is an avid attendee of Chicago theater, music, and cultural events.






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