After seeing the final performance of Salome at the Canadian Opera Company, I was keen to meet Clea Minaker, the artist responsible for updating the controversial climax scene: Salome's "dance of the seven veils." An accomplished designer, performer and puppeteer, Minaker's shadowscapes caught the attention of Salome's director Atom Egoyan. He recruited her to rework what in the 1996 and 2002 productions had turned the traditional femme fatale striptease into a shadow play of sexual abuse. Minaker used her innovative skills to explode and distort the shadows, transforming the licentious dance moves of Linnea Swan (playing Salome) into psychologically loaded collages of disturbingly distorted gyrating limbs. Set to Strauss's discordant score, the scene retains the theme of abuse that gives root to Salome's actions, yet allows her a monstrous sexual power at the same time.
Coming out from behind this veiled shadow land, and meeting with me in the light of morning, Minaker has an unassuming eloquence paired with the quiet confidence of a seasoned performer. Her passion for puppetry lead her to train at the International Institue of Puppetry in France, a prestigious three-year program open to only fifteen students per cycle. Here, learning from many visiting artists, she laid the foundation of her knowledge of techniques and tricks, the importance of storytelling and emotion and how to stretch the medium so as to push aesthetics and boundaries in the theatre world and beyond.
Up next for Minaker, on returning to her hometown of Montreal, is participation in Tales from Odessa, Josh Dolgin's (aka Socalled) Yiddish musical. Following this, she will pick up the reins of her first solo production, to show at Théâtre LaChapelle this coming November. Using William Blake's poem The Book of Thel (1789) as a loose framework, Minaker tracks a young girl experiencing an existensial crisis, struggling with her own individuality. In translating imagery of nature to the stage and following the girl as she descends to the underworld, Minaker is seeking the sublime. With her ability to coax age-old techniques to form stunning illusions, often creating more magic than any computer-generated effect, she creates for her audience an experience they won't soon forget.