by Andrew C. Periale
" I will never be a dancer," said Bart Roccoberton, wistfully. Looking at him, I supposed this was true (though, for one so solidly built, he was remarkably light on his feet). "With a puppet, though, I really can dance!"
That was in 1984, when we performed together in Pandemonium Puppet Company (of which he was also the director). Now, as the head of UConn's puppetry program, Roccoberton spends a lot less time performing. Hand him a puppet though, and he'll still plié and twirl with the best of them.
The universes of puppetry and dance have many galaxies in common. There are, of course, puppets that dance, but there are also dancers who consciously try to imitate puppets. There are productions in which characters are by turns played by puppets, and by dancers who are manipulated as puppets (when done well, the audience will be unable to tell which is which). There are dance troupes that integrate puppets or shadows into their dances, and puppet troupes that integrate dancers into their plays. There are so many combinations and permutations of the dance/puppetry equation, that at some point a reasonable person will simply say, "To heck with it!" and leave the naming of names to scholars whose fastidious work it is to prepare specimen slides for the microscopes of posterity.
What we have tried to do here is assemble a sampler, a curiosity case, the contents of which represent a wide range of work being done both in the US and abroad. Our hope is that out of all these motley scraps, a picture will begin to emerge of a fantastic world of color and choreography, of metaphor and movement.
A seminal essay in the consideration of puppetry and dance is Heinrich von Kleist's "Über das Marionettentheater." Hanne Tierney throws new light on this old chestnut [page 26]. Von Kleist's name pops up a number of times, particularly in our History column by John Bell, who also reviews the important new Puppetry: A World History, by Eileen Blumenthal [page 36]. Blumenthal's latest work is surely destined to become a standard reference work. We include a portion of the final chapter, which highlights
the relationship between dancer and puppet.
It is on the stage, though, rather than in books, where the rubber hits the road (or where the tutu hits the tarmac). Christopher Williams is a young NY choreographer whose work at times veers so far from the mainstream that the mainstream itself is forced to shift [page 4]. Rolande Duprey and Matthew Cohen document the fascinating journey of Gita Kolanad, from teenage runaway to master of Bharatanatyam (one of India's classical dance forms) and beyond [page 16]. Boston's "Snappy Dance" has often integrated objects and puppets into their work, as explained by company member (and puppeteer) Bonnie Duncan [page 28]. Wasau Dance Theatre's recent production Alice in Wonderland is only their latest collaboration with Integrity Designworks a company started by UConn Puppetry Program alums [page 8].
We have our scholarly writing as well (though not of the dry, Petri dish variety). In addition to the aforementioned Bell, Blumenthal and Tierney, Kathy Foley introduces us to Indonesian wayang wong [page 10], and Larry Kominz to Japanese buyo [page 22]. These are both forms of dance based on traditional puppet movement. Steve Abrams leads us through the work of such well-known choreographers as Martha Graham, who've been influenced by puppetry [page 30].
You don't need to be a Martha Graham, though, to work in the world of dance. Take a lesson from Professor Roccoberton and pick up a puppet. Now: "Right hand to the heart-a; left hand to the heart-a; sink, slide, coupé!" (Repeat.)