In a Baraboo-directed Broadway production, a young whooping crane receives an education during her first solo migration. Heather Henson hopes viewers will learn a few things as well.
The daughter of famed puppeteer Jim Henson will bring “Ajijaak on Turtle Island” to the Al. Ringling Theater this month. Developed by Henson and fellow Wisconsin native Ty Defoe, the dance, puppet and kite show demonstrates the interconnected nature of all living things.
“That’s the lesson she learns from these characters along the flyway,” Henson said.
Two performances will benefit the Ringling Theater and the International Crane Foundation. Henson sits on the ICF board and previously brought his “Panther & Crane” production there. “They did an amazing job,” she said.
The local performances are the only ones to take place in Wisconsin, and Baraboo is one of only four cities that will host “Ajijaak”. In the production, the crane travels alone and learns the importance of survival and perseverance.
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The lavish piece is, like all productions from Henson’s IBEX puppet studio, designed to provide a transformative experience through the use of non-traditional storytelling. She mixes performance styles to create immersive experiences that leave the audience thinking about their relationship with the environment.
Ajijaak, for example, meets a series of characters and visits indigenous cultures. “We hear all these different voices,” Henson said. “These are important messages to work with.”
Defoe, an Ojibwe and Oneida performance artist, wrote the piece and co-directs it with Henson. It features a variety of traditional Native American dances, songs, and an original score composed by Defoe and his collaborators.
Cranes are important creatures, Henson said, because they mate for life and care for their young for a whole year. They are celebrated in literature and folklore around the world.
“Relationships between people and cranes are important,” Henson said. “We really need to change the way we walk this Earth.”
While in Baraboo, the company will offer two free matinee performances to students in Dane, Sauk and Columbia counties.
“It’s important to talk to young people about this,” Henson said. “We really try to make it a fun event.”
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