Breaking the Puppet Strings


BluesSHOUT! is the place to be to see what’s new going on in the blues dancing world, and choreography is no exception! I am truly impressed with the craft and the artistry of Jenn in this piece. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen, almost otherworldly, and there’s a reason for that – Jenn talks about putting an awful lot of effort into gathering sources and integrating them into the blues aesthetic to create the effect she wanted.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

The original idea for this piece came from a work of puppet theater. The puppet becomes self-aware and deals with the realization by plucking out its own strings, leaving it a motionless pile by the end. I loved the internal conflict and set out to express it in a more uplifting way. I still wanted to keep it a little dark, though, so I decided to play both the puppet and the puppeteer.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

I felt that the idea would be best­ done to a twist on a classic. Everyone and their mother has done St. James Infirmary, plus the song has personal meaning. Typically, versions are slow and mournful. Hugh Laurie, on the other hand, did something much sharper with a beautifully soft piano line at the end. I heard the anger that can come with grief, and yet it still had a lighter resolution. It was very fitting for the struggle I wanted to convey.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

There were two main influences: South African puppets and a hip hop dancer named Hampton Williams. The puppets danced in a way that was rhythmic and relaxed, as it would be without bones to get in the way. They also used plenty of hip gyrations for comedic effect. Williams has developed his own style called Exorcist. It has tons of internal conflict manifested externally with fascinating body shapes. I also looked at various jazz and pop routines to inspire even more unusual shapes. In order to keep the piece itself a little twisted I intentionally didn’t look at other blues routines for inspiration. My goal was to find lines and movements from non-blues sources and bring them into the blues aesthetic.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?

I decided to go about this in stages. First I choreographed the routine the puppeteer was trying to perform. It was a literal interpretation of the lyrics using movements inspired by the puppets, and classic blues dances. That was the easy part. I then listened to the song an absurd number of times to plot out the puppet’s arc from awakening, so to speak, to freedom. Next I created a physical manifestation of the conflict: head vs. hands and core vs. limbs. Once that was clear I used my human influences to mess with and disrupt the puppeteer. The fabric tied around my wrists harkened back to the original idea of the piece, and it gave me a physical way to mark my puppet’s victory.