Chan Centre Beyond Words series presents: Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava

The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia (UBC) presents Manual Cinema’s Ada/Ava, a haunting masterpiece for stage and screen on February 7, 2017 at 7:30pm in the Telus Studio Theatre as part of the Beyond Words series. This hit of the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival merges puppetry, multimedia and live ensemble music to animate a gothic tale of twins, the elderly Ada and Ava, and the ethereal adventure that ensues as one grieving sister seeks out her deceased “other half.”

“When programming Beyond Words, we look for works that innovatively combine storytelling and performance – Manual Cinema are masters of this,” says Wendy Atkinson, Programming Manager at the Chan Centre and curator of the Beyond Words series.

We often think of films as big blockbusters with dazzling special effects, but Ada/Ava offers a different type of cinematic experience: a version stripped to basic components as simple as paper cutouts and vintage overhead projectors. Mixing these handmade visuals with cutting-edge technologies, Manual Cinema make us nostalgic for age-old techniques, while exciting us about the possibilities of modern theatrical ingenuity.

Hailed by The New York Times as “an unclassifiable story of spectral beauty,” Ada/Ava is a poignant look at aging and mortality, the mourning of loss, and the duality of the self and other. Set in seaside New England, the ghostly fantasy follows identical and inseparable twins who, having grown old together, build their life’s routines around each other. One fateful afternoon, their indelible bond is broken – Ava passes away leaving Ada behind. Walking the inescapable steps of grief, Ada becomes swept up by a travelling carnival into a journey that begins in a mirror maze but ultimately takes her across the thresholds of life and death.

To bring Ada/Ava to life, Chicago’s Manual Cinema employs a variety of mechanisms and cinematic techniques. Shadow puppetry is part of the magic, and has earned the creators multiple awards, but as said by The Chicago Tribune, “To describe Manual Cinema as just a shadow puppet show is to say Pixar makes cartoons.” Rather, the production comes together before audiences’ eyes through a collection of intricately synchronized elements: scenes lit by projectors, live-camera feeds, multi-channel sound effects, and soundscapes created by musicians on electronic piano, synth, strings and clarinet. Harkening back to silent film days, Ada/Ava is told with minimal narration, relying heavily on crafted imagery and sound to guide audiences along.

Founded in 2010, Manual Cinema is a performance collective, design studio, and film/video production company. With expertise in choreography, movement, composition, interactive media, and puppeteering, Manual Cinema’s Co-Artistic Directors Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia Miller and Kyle Vegter are a formidable force whose talent has taken them around the world. In addition to feature-length, live cinematic shadow puppet shows (Lula Del Ray,Ada/Ava, Mementos Mori) and site-specific installations (La Celestina, My Soul’s Shadow), the group has been called to develop music videos for Sony Masterworks, Gabriel Kahane, and the GRAMMY Award-winning eighth blackbird. The company’s more recent projects include an adaption of Peter Pan with American playwright and theatre producer Randy Weiner, as well as an immersive adaption of The Little Prince, and a new feature-length work based on Edith Nesbit’s novel, Magic City. Manual Cinema also recently worked in collaboration with The New York Times to create shadow animations and original music for The Forger, a short film about the life and work of Adolfo Kaminsky—a man who saved thousands of lives by forging passports to help people flee the Nazis during WWII.
Tickets are available from $20 at or 604-822-2697