In less than a decade, the bold and talented Chicago collective Manual Cinema has become a theatrical powerhouse with its mesmerizing shadow-puppet spectacles. Blending techniques from animation and film and performing with original music, Manual Cinema reimagines puppetry, inventing what The New York Times calls “a spectral parade of fantastical images.” The company deploys hundreds of handmade props and puppets animated by an army of actors working in shadow, making intricate and daring performances. Manual Cinema’s work has been called “a brilliant mix of hi-fi and lo-fi” (The Times of London), and “something like a vintage silent film” (The Washington Post). Visually stunning and technically inspired, the company has won an Emmy Award and a growing international reputation as a sensational theatrical innovator. Manual Cinema launches its Duke Performances residency with Ada/Ava, the production that started it all and eventually took top honors at 2013’s National Puppet Festival. While Manual Cinema was mostly still an idea, its founders staged this show in a first-floor Chicago apartment on Halloween weekend, with the audience standing on the sidewalk. The timing was deliberate, as the bewitching Ada/Ava is an homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, a ghost story and a lovelorn tale. Two septuagenarian sisters share a quiet life in a seaside cottage beneath the lighthouse they tend. When Ava dies during afternoon tea, Ada is left to search for her missing half. She senses despair in unused objects, wonders whom she actually sees in the mirror, and embarks on a surreal quest to find her sister and herself. Set to a rich mix of string-swept dirges and jazz standards played live onstage, Ada/Ava is “almost unbearably startling and sweet” (WBUR).