It's a strange partnership a former Paris Opera Ballet star and a former radio newsman turned bird trainer but the collaboration between Dana Elliott and Rod Cathcart has resulted in a fast-paced, traveling marionette show.
Elliott and Cathcart explained how they got from there to here during a recent Mad Hatter Marionette show at a local shopping mall.
Elliott began ballet training at age 6 and by 13 was off to Europe for advanced training. She danced with the Paris Opera Ballet and the Strasbourg Ballet until 1966, when arthritis forced a premature end to her dancing career.
She returned to Kansas City, Mo., where she had learned the art of string-pulling at a young age and joined her mother, two brothers and one sister in La Famille, the family's marionette production at Worlds of Fun amusement park.
Elliott's mother, DoLores Hadley, creates and makes the marionettes for the family's show. Hadley is a master puppeteer, Elliott said. In fact, Muppets' creator Jim Henson offered her a job. She declined, preferring to stick with her own show.
Cathcart and his bird circus were booked at Worlds of Fun in 1972, just down the lane from La Famille. He attended the Hadley marionette show and, entranced, traded one of his cockatoos to Hadley for a few marionettes.
Cathcart set to work learning to manipulate the stringed beings. He said he asked Elliott to work with him right away, but "it took me until 1979 to convince her it was a good idea." That's when they began touring the Mad Hatter Marionette show.
"DoLores retires her puppets after only one season, then we get them and take them on the road," Cathcart said.
There are certainly plenty of marionettes to choose from.
"There are probably 382 or so characters in my mother's home. We could open a museum," she said.
Elliott's ballet training is evident as one watches her breathe life into her marionettes.
"It has served me well; that early training is very good discipline. And I always worked for my mother more good discipline," the puppeteer said.
"My mother does most of the choreographing, and writes the scripts, in addition to creating the characters. The whole show is my mother; I consider myself just an extension of her her arm."
Elliott said Hadley has been in the marionette business for more than 30 years, raising four children by herself. Those four children learned very young to work with the marionettes. They're still working with them.
"Except for me, the whole family works at Worlds of Fun all the time. And I'm only gone about four days or so each month when I meet Rod somewhere to do the Mad Hatter shows," Elliott said.
The Mad Hatter Marionettes will perform Sept. 7-10 at Sooner Fashion Mall, Norman. The shows are free. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 396611