I love language. Anyone who knows me or my work knows this to be true. I particularly love language when it is juxtaposed or collided with movement. For me, this provides endless possibilities. Deeply felt movement or gesture can illuminate something hidden or fallow in the text. Similarly, powerful language can dislodge the prettiness or vanity of dancing. I am fascinated by the conversation between the two.
I also love the human voice. Like most dancers I fell in love with the human body and what it can do at an early age, utterly fascinated at the multitudinous ways it could bend and twist and configure itself. But unlike most dancers, I also fell in love with the voice somewhere along the way, its sonorities, its depth, its ability to express emotion. So I am not one of those choreographers who utilizes the disembodied voiceover very much. I am much more attracted to the real time sound of the voice as it resonates in the body. What could be more delicious than witnessing a performer as he/she grapples with a complex physical task and a highly structured vocal task at the same time? It’s not just the level of difficulty that intrigues me it’s the thrill of the encounter- that the performer is likely to discover something truthful and unplanned in that collision between the two forces. This opens up the space for real intuitive action. When the mind is put so far at bay and one’s whole being is concentrated on the task of finding ownership in both the sound and the movement that you are making, then you are somehow relying on a different part of your being. You are deliciously unselfconscious and perhaps for a brief period not watching yourself. That’s when you begin to perform from a deeper place.
But oh my, I have seriously strayed from the topic at hand. What I really wanted to say is- Puppets don’t talk! That may be one reason why in twenty years of theatrical experimentation it never occurred to me to work with one. Sure, I have seen them from time to time and thought them endearing, but loving language and the human voice as I do (not to mention the fleshy reality of the human body) I just always thought puppets were not for me. So…… enter Basil Twist who convinced me to work with him on Paula Vogel’s The Long Christmas Ride Home. He was having his debut as a director at the Magic Theater and needed someone to choreograph a homoerotic solo for one of the characters. Well, I can do that with my eyes closed, thought I! But I wasn’t really compelled to say yes until I met Basil and he charmed me into it. Little did I know that when I got into the rehearsal process with him and saw these very human, beautiful puppets of his that I realized I would have to shed my lifelong identity as a puppetphobe. I wanted the puppets to be onstage longer, I couldn’t get enough of them. They were so potent somehow, the embodiment of everything that is fragile and vulnerable and beautiful about us humans. And their emotions were wonderfully transparent- they were just who they were! They couldn’t lie! They were just puppets after all!
Anyway, I was infatuated and completely blindsided by my own infatuation. I had gone into the project thinking I would probably just avert my eyes whenever the puppets appeared. But it was quite the contrary, I wanted to run over and touch them and hold them and see if they would like me.
All of this I attribute to Basil and his enormous gift as a puppet maker. He really loves these creatures and makes them with such care. He imbues them all with a bit of his own spirit (which is elfin and magical, by the way). But more importantly, he believes they will become who they are, find themselves if you will, and blossom into full glorious beings. He believes. And he makes you believe.
So after that transformative experience at the Magic Theater, we kept in touch. We kept imagining working together. We talked about a sensitive gay puppet, an overly aesthetic adolescent boy who feels ill equipped to be in the world with all of its cruelty and ugliness. We got on the same page about this topic very quickly, mind you. ( I can’t imagine why.)
We kept after it and pretty soon we found our Wonderboy. I had a ball finding words and movements for him and, of course, it was a wonderful journey with the performers in my company to find out how they could be an integral part of his story. I don’t wish to say too much more about the actual piece, but am eager to share him finally with the rest of the world. I will just say that I have fallen in love with another one of Basil’s puppets and I hope I have done him justice.