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“Ajijaak on Turtle Island,” a new family musical, at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College in New York City

“Ajijaak on Turtle Island,” a new family musical, at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College in New York City

Feature Image: IBEX Puppetry, Photo by Theo Cote. Source:

For tickets, priced at $25-$35 and information, please visit:

Ajijaak on Turtle Island, a new family musical, will premiere at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College (524 W. 59th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, New York, NY) as part of its second national tour, it was announced by Heather Henson and Green Feather Foundation (formerly IBEX Puppetry). Ajijaak on Turtle Island will run for one performance in NYC on February 28 at 7:00PM. Ajijaak on Turtle Island has a book by Ty Defoe, Lyrics by Ty Defoe and Dawn Avery, and music by Dawn Avery and Larry Mitchell, Kevin Tarrant, and Ty Defoe. The musical is based on the original storyboards written and drawn by Heather Henson.

Reflecting our connectedness with all of creation, Ajijaak on Turtle Island bears witness to the birth and first year of flight of a whooping crane in North America. Separated from her family, young whooping crane Ajijaak undertakes her first migration from Canada to coastal Texas alone. Her journey is disrupted by environmental, industrial, and mythical chaos, elements of the Mishibizhiw. Ajijaak must follow her intuition to fly onward, learning from the contemporary indigenous communities she encounters along the way. Bringing together an ensemble of Native American performers with puppets from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop™, indigenous songs and dances, and video projections Ajijaak on Turtle Island honors contemporary Native American cultures and illustrates harmonious relationships between humans, animals, and the environment.

The original production was co-directed by visionary puppet artist Heather Henson, daughter of legendary puppeteers Jane and Jim Henson (The Muppets, Sesame Street) and Ty Defoe (Oneida and Ojibwe Nations) and the second national tour is being remounted by Jen Olivares (Acjachemen – Juaneno Band of Mission Indians) with Daniel Leeman Smith (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma).

The puppets in Ajijaak on Turtle Island were designed and fabricated by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop™. The character of Ajijaak is played by 5 different crane puppets and the production uses a total of 17 puppets, 5 kites, and 12 flags.

The ensemble includes Vicki Oceguera (Qawalangin Tribe), Bradley Lewis (Acoma Pueblo), Emily Preis (Citizen of the Osage Nation), Kimberly Jajuan (Haliwa-Saponi), Sheldon Raymore (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), and Matt Cross (Kiowa). The swings are Emmeline Briggs (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), and Opalanietet (Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape).

Ajijaak on Turtle Island has scenic design by Christopher Swader and Justin Swader, lighting design by Marika Kent, costume design by Lux Haac, sound design by Emma Wilk, projection design by Katherine Freer, Aerial design by Curtiss Lee Mitchell, and Costume Design for Crane: On Earth, In Sky by Donna Zakowska. General Management is by Brierpatch Productions and Ajijaak on Turtle Island is a Qualified Parity Production.

The production is the result of years-long collaboration between Henson and Ty Defoe exploring the resiliency of both endangered Whooping Cranes and the indigenous communities that, like the cranes, have lived in harmony with this continent since time immemorial. As a former trustee for the International Crane Foundation (ICF) based in Baraboo, WI, much of Henson’s work with cranes is inspired by ICF’s mission to conserve cranes and their landscapes.

“Originally conceived and performed as part of LaMama Theatre’s 2015 Puppet Series as ​Crane: on earth, in sky, Ajijaak on Turtle Island​ is a spectacle of environmental theatre, music, kite flying and dance,” said Heather Henson. “The story of our hero, Ajjijaak, the young whooping crane, incorporates Native American traditions and contemporary ceremony that reflect our connectedness with creation. This work was made with members of the Indigenous Community of NYC. Our goal is for audiences to be transformed, moved, and educated.”

“A reflection on life’s energy and how it connects all aspects of our world, Ajijaak on Turtle Island brings communities together through puppetry, music, traditional dances, animations, and kites,” said Ty Defoe. “Ajijaak’s story puts forward visions from Indigenous communities, celebrating the symbiotic relationship between cranes and Native American/Indigenous peoples, and inspiring the next generation of storytellers, change-makers, and eco-champions.”

For tickets, priced at $25-$35 and information, please visit:

Heather Henson (Producer, Co-Creator) is a second-generation puppet artist whose work promotes healing for the planet. After studying at the Rhode Island School of Design and the California Institute of the Arts, Henson has focused her efforts on supporting other independent puppet artists, producing her own award-winning environmental spectacles, and bringing people and nature into reciprocal harmony through hands-on educational experiences. By supporting Indigenous knowledge keepers who are reviving traditional practices, Henson strives to support a sustainable and healthy world for generations to come. Henson sits on the Board of Directors for The Jim Henson Company, is President of the Jane Henson Foundation and a trustee of the Jim Henson Legacy. She is also Board Member Emeritus of the International Crane Foundation and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

Ty Defoe (Giizhig) (Co-Creator) is from the Oneida and Ojibwe Nations. He is a Grammy award-winning composer, a librettist, interdisciplinary artist, actor, Broadway choreographer, eagle dancer, and hoop dancer. Ty interweaves artistic projects with social justice, indigeneity, trans rights, Indigi-Queering, and environmentalism. Awards, residencies, and fellowships: 2022 The Kennedy Center’s Next 50, 2021 Helen Merrill Award-winner, TransLab Fellow, Robert Rauschenberg Artist in Residence, Jonathan Larson Award, Cordillera International Film Festival Finalist, 2021 Cultural Capital Fellow, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center finalist, and the ASCAP Musical Theater Workshop. Ty’s songs have been featured at: Lincoln Center, Joe’s Pub, Ars Nova, 54 Below, The Met, and The Kennedy Center. Ty’s theatrical work has been presented at: Guthrie Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Yale Institute of Musical Theater, La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, Native Voices at the Autry, The New Victory Theater, First Stage, The Millennium celebration in Cairo, Egypt; International Music Festival in Ankara, Turkey; and Festival of World Cultures in Dubai, and coming soon: Syracuse Stage. Works: TransWorld, Red Pine, The Way They Lived, Ajijaak on Turtle Island, Hear Me Say My Name, Hart Island Requiem, Clouds are Pillows for the Moon, Wind Changes Direction, Before the Land Eroded, BasketBall Is ‘War, Minus the Shooting’ In Sectarian Lebanon, River of Stone, Firebird Tattoo, Trial and Tears (with Dawn Avery), and The Lesson (with Nolan Doran and Avi Amon). Ty is a core member of All My Relations Collective, recent piece: GIZHIBAA GIIZHIG | Revolving Sky.

Dawn Avery (music and lyrics) ​Grammy and NAMA nominated, Avery has worked with musical luminaries from Pavarotti to Sting, Cage to Nakai; composing for Indigenous films (Smithsonian’s NMAI, Rich/Heape); touring with her own multimedia projects including ​50 Shades of Red​ and mentoring future generations inthe​NativeComposer’sProject.​ AveryholdsaPhDin ethnomusicology (Indigenous theory, Native Classical music). Of Mohawk descent, her longhouse name is Ieriho:kwats and she wears the turtle clan. Some of the music from this performance may be heard on the Global Award-Winning CD, Crane on Earth, in Sky: A Journey, ​available for sale.

Kevin Tarrant (music) was Hųųczii Zi, Bear Clan of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and Taal’wip’ hoya, Sky Clan of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona. He was brought up in the traditional way and began singing at age 9. A singer, arts manager, and community activist, he was a leader in the Native American community of New York City, serving as Board Chairman and Executive Director of the American Indian Community House. He was a founder and head singer of The SilverCloud Singers, an internationally known Native drum group. They are featured on the album Music for the Native Americans with Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble and performed at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, The Ritz, Roseland, La MaMa, Lincoln Center, The Public Theater and The Apollo Theater. SilverCloud also traveled to Brazil where they took part in the international percussion festival PERCPAN VI. As a solo performer, he performed with acapella First Nations group, Ulali, composer David Amram, choreographer Savion Glover, and Award-winning percussionist, Alessandra Belloni, and for the off-Broadway productions of Winterman and New York Theatre Workshop’s The Rez Sisters. In 2016, he founded, along with playwright and director, Murielle Borst-Tarrant, Safe Harbors NYC, an arts initiative that focuses on the development and production of Native Indigenous Theater and Performing Arts in New York City. Most recently he was the musical director and performed in the Safe Harbors production of Don’t Feed the Indians – A Divine Comedy Pageant! at La MaMa. In 2019, he was the composer and percussionist for the Broadway production and national tour of Ajijaak on Turtle Island. Kevin passed away from Covid-19 in 2020.

Green Feather Foundation (Producer) is a newly-formed non-profit umbrella for the works previously done by IBEX Puppetry, Handmade Puppet Dreams, and Puppet Slam Network as well as to further support the philanthropic efforts of Heather Henson and expand programming beyond puppetry. Guided by board members including Henson, Morgan Jenness, Christine Papalexis, and Betsy Richards (Cherokee) with additional advising from Carly Hare (Pawnee), Green Feather’s mission is to promote health and healing of the planet through artistic spectacle, puppetry, and the reconnection of individuals with the land through immersive cultural, environmental and arts education. Learn more at

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MUSKRAT Magazine

MUSKRAT is an on-line Indigenous arts, culture magazine that honours the connection between humans and our traditional ecological knowledge by exhibiting original works and critical commentary. MUSKRAT embraces both rural and urban settings and uses media arts, the Internet, and wireless technology to investigate and disseminate traditional knowledges in ways that inspire their reclamation.

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