The toy box

Adaptation de «La Boîte à jouxjoux, Ballet pour des enfants» de Claude Debussy
About the show

A concert/show by Bambalina Teatre Practicable

The Toy Box premiered at El Almudín venue in the city of Valencia on December 28, 2022, as part of the Christmas program “Menut Palau” at the Palau de la Música de Valencia.

The pantomime ballet for children La boîte à joujoux (The Toy Box) by Debussy was the last major work the musician composed for the theater, completed in October 1913. Originally, it was a story illustrated by the artist André Hellé, a specialist in children’s books. Hellé transformed the story into a simple script for a ballet, for which Debussy agreed to compose the music. Chouchou, the composer’s daughter, was seven years old at the time, and she, along with all her dolls and other toys, partly inspired him to compose the piano music. The published score of the piece contains colorful and charming illustrations and includes comments on the action that show the delicate and sensitive character the composer imagined for his work.

Debussy called the work a ‘pantomime’, implying that it was a type of varied entertainment without spoken dialogue whose expressive basis is gesture and movement. He also expressed some ideas about how it should be presented:

“-It’s the simplest thing, even childish!… The characters must maintain their elementary and synthetic movements, and their burlesque appearance of cardboard cutouts, without which the work would make no sense.”

He also remarked that “only puppets can represent the meaning of the work and the expression of the music.”

 The music of La boîte à joujoux, lasting 40 minutes, is delicate, ingenious, and subtle, and is filled with references to popular songs, famous classical themes, and allusions to other compositions by Debussy himself. Although it contains notable parodies such as “The Soldier’s Chorus” by Gounod and Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” the music is never vulgar or pompous. At one point, we find an exotic arabesque solo that Debussy explains in a footnote: “it is an ancient Hindu chant that is still used today to tame elephants.” What gives a general coherence to the score is the recurrent use of markedly contrasting motifs for the three main characters: a reveille for the soldier, an exquisite waltz melody for the doll, and a strident and angular motif in major second intervals for Polichinelle.

The revival of puppetry in the last decades of the 20th century has made some stage proposals closer to its initial intention possible, although we do not know of any production that has truly been able to bring together the sensitivity and poetic delicacy that emanate from the score and the illustrations that accompanied it in its first publication. Perhaps our interest in the work stems from this idea, as we believe that due to our experience and the professional and musical context we are living in, we are in a privileged position to rescue this score and offer it to today’s audience with the charm and subtle poetry with which it was created.

Firma Bambalina

Artistic team


Ballet for Children

(La Boîte à joujoux, ballet for children)

Claude Debussy

Stage Direction: Jaume Policarpo

Piano: José Jaime Hidalgo

Performers: Pau Gregori, Águeda Llorca, Jorge Valle, Gonzalo Manglano

Puppets and Props: Adame, Jaume Policarpo

Lighting: Ximo Rojo

Graphic Design: Jaume Marco

Photography: Vicente A. Jiménez

Video: Sergio Serrano

Company Production: Ruth Atienza

Distribution: Marisol Limiñana