A FESTIVAL which celebrates physical theatre, puppetry and animated films is presenting more work by Scottish artists than ever before.

Around 80% of shows at manipulate festival come from artists and practitioners based across the country – the highest figure since the event began 13 years ago.

International guests at the annual visual arts festival include Franco-Russian company Samoloet, which will perform an experimental take on Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and a promenade production of Faust’s cautionary story by artists from Slovenia and France.

The high showing from Scots artists is testament to the success of the festival, which was founded to “energise and inspire” the country’s visual theatre scene through practical support and by bringing work by some of the world’s best practitioners to Scotland.

Simon Hart, festival founder and artistic director of organisers Puppet Animation Scotland, says the manipulate’s growth has meant a move this year from the Traverse Theatre to Summerhall and The Studio @Potterow.

“Over the last five years in particular manipulate has seen more and more artists in Scotland wanting to bring their own work and explorations to the festival,” Hart says.

“One of the major strategic reasons manipulate was set up was to help to give Scottish puppeteers, visual theatre and physical theatre practitioners a shop window and a focus for their art forms, particularly when creating work for adult audiences.

“Having that space for works-in-progress, for trying things out in front of an audience, is so valuable, and it’s one of the main functions of the festival. While the Traverse has two lovely theatre spaces, it’s not as flexible as Summerhall is in terms of presenting all of this great work at various stages of development.”

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This year’s strong showing from circus and cabaret practitioners, such as Edinburgh’s Cirqulation and Paper Doll Militia confirms how audiences have also grown in recent years, says Hart.

“Circus used to be a bit of a ghetto,” he explains, “but now I think audiences are much more willing not to think of circus in terms of the clowns and performing animals, but in terms of theatricality, physicality and visual narrative. Audience perceptions on what circus can involve has become a lot more sophisticated.”

Hart points to the work of DanceBase in Edinburgh, The Work Room in Glasgow and artists such as Highlands performer Ellie Dubois in helping to nurture excitement for new art forms.

“These are very enlightened artists in terms of looking at the relationship between dance and physicality and involving different techniques,” he says. “People like Ellie are bridging these different art forms to create something that’s more hybrid, and that success feeds back into those organisations and festivals like manipulate.”

Of the 41 artists and groups based in Scotland presenting work at manipulate are Franscisca Morton’s Faux Theatre and Tortoise In A Nutshell, both of which have developed over the years with the festival’s support.

“We presented Franscisca’s first work-in-progress seven or eight years ago and we have developed a very close relationship with Tortoise In A Nutshell over the years,” Hart says. The latter, a multi-award winning Edinburgh company who took their innovative hit Feral to New York last year, will present Ragnarok, a new show featuring hundreds of tiny terracotta figures, performance and live animation.

“We gave the core members of Tortoise In A Nutshell their very first performance together about 12 years ago when they were still drama students at Queen Margaret University,” says Hart, who notes that Ragnarok, which is inspired by the Norse myth of the end of the world, has a similar feel to their international hit.

“Like Feral, the show is very much focussed on individual characters and their interactions and scenarios,” he says. “As well as that Game Of Thrones trope of warring houses, warring factions, they have placed the Norse legend of apocalypse within a contemporary context, which obviously has very potent relevance just now.”

January 31 to February 8, Summerhall and The Studio, Edinburgh, manipulatefestival.org