The first in a series of works that will play in the Twist Festival D.C. through May 6, master puppeteer Basil Twist's "Petrushka" at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre is a retelling of the famous 1911 Ballet Russes work. That ballet tells the story of a puppet show in which the puppets come to life after the show, suggesting that they have real emotions, rather than being just scraps of wood and fabric.

But Twist has taken on the additional challenge of doing the same work with puppets and making their post-performance characters seem to be as real as humans. And he succeeds, making their personalities, not just their movements, credible. The entire production is set to the music of Igor Stravinsky's Sonata for Two Pianos, played magnificently by Julia and Irina Elkina. To put the audience in the mood for the main story, Twist creates a prologue of images, some abstract, some realistic, that flit across a huge, elaborate gold-framed rectangle set high on the Lansburgh Theatre stage.

The scene is a Russian carnival fair. When the puppet show begins, three small puppets are seen at a distance, entertaining at the fair. After the performance, three life-sized representations of the puppets -- the jester Petrushka, the beautiful ballerina and the cruel, barrel-chested Moor -- are seen in their dressing rooms.

Onstage
'Petrushka'
Where: Shakespeare Theatre Company, Lansburgh Theatre, 450 7th St. NW
When: Through March 25
Info: $21 to $46; 202-547-1122; ShakespareTheatre.org

In his simple room, Petrushka bewails his hatred of the ever-present puppeteer. Petrushksa's only hope is that someday the ballerina will love him. When she enters, Petrushka proclaims his love but scares her away with his ardent desire.

In the Moor's elegant room, where brightly colored pillows are piled on the floor, the Moor brandishes his scimitar. When the ballerina enters, she enraptures the Moor with her beauty. Just as she is about to win the Moor's heart, Petrushka enters. The Moor chases and finally kills him, although Petrushka's spirit lives on.

"Petrushka," designed and directed by Twist, wouldn't be possible without its extremely skilled puppeteers (Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith, Stefano Brancato, Kate Brehm, Keri Lewis, Jonothon Lyons, Brendan McMahon, Marc Petrosino, Lake Simons and Christopher Williams), who use a combination of Japanese and Czech artistry.

Many children will love this charming production, but it's also designed to appeal to anyone looking for a novel, imaginative approach to reality, where everything you see dances to music and defies the law of gravity. And you don't have to be seven years old to be in that category.