Guard and Puppetry Combine

Winter guard has a big fan in the world of entertainment. Heather Henson, daughter of Muppets founder Jim Henson, prominently features flags and props in her hour-long stage show titled “Panther & Crane.”

“It’s a puppet show embedded in a collage of dance and animation,” Henson says. “It’s all done in service to give people a sense of harmony and a sense of beauty of nature.” Henson first heard about winter guard from a percussionist friend. “I looked at all those amazing videos,” she says. “I had no idea! I was completely impressed with that world.” Henson eventually bought some flags to put into her show.

“I gave the flags to my performers and said, ‘OK, wave them around, do something.’ It wasn’t going very well!” Fortunately, she reconnected with choreographer Genevieve Bernard of Voci Dance in Orlando, Fla. The two had met years earlier, but at that time Henson didn’t realize Bernard had a background in guard. Bernard’s credentials include instructing Field of View Winter Guard and performing with The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps.

“We brought Genevieve in to choreograph the flag section in our first show,” Henson says. “She made it look a lot better.” As “Panther & Crane” evolved, the collaboration became even stronger. Bernard trained the dancers and put flag movement throughout the show. Henson added other objects for the dancers to work with.

“We use bird wing flags that are dyed to look like feathers, and we have cloud flags that are hand-dyed,” Henson says. “We also have angel wing flags that are like swing flags on a J-pole.” Large tarp flags provide visual and audible enhancement during a storm sequence. “We like the sound of the tarp flags,” Henson says. “The performers have to use a ton of muscle when they’re swinging the tarps back and forth. I love the look of the body when it’s working against an object, the push and pull.”

Henson is open to deeper collaboration with the winter guard community. “I’m completely enamored of the skill in winter guard,” Henson says. “People practice all day long for days and days. The dedication is extraordinary, and the level of creativity is wild.”

For more information about Heather Henson’s work and about “Panther & Crane,” visit www.IbexPuppetry.com.

© 2008. Marching.com. Excerpted with permission.