Puppeteer Ford returns with new show ‘Migration’

Puppeteer Hobey Ford performed at Smith-Wilkes Tuesday afternoon. (Adam Birkan | File Photo)

Puppeteer Hobey Ford performed at Smith-Wilkes Tuesday afternoon. (Adam Birkan | File Photo)

Puppets are taking over the world. “The Muppets” are coming to Broadway, courtesy of Disney, and to TV thanks to ABC. The recent Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, featured Italian marionettes and Vietnam’s Golden Dragon Water Puppets.

Now Chautauqua Institution is jumping on the bandwagon as well.

Hobey Ford is returning to the Family Entertainment Series at 5 and 7 p.m. tonight in Smith Wilkes Hall. Ford last wooed the Chautauqua audience with his “Animalia” in 2012, and he’s back to perform a new show: “Migration.”

“ ‘Animalia’ was not a story, per se, it was vignettes of animal science,” Ford said. “This is more of a beginning, middle and end kind of story.”

“Migration” is the story of young Beatriz, whose immigration from Mexico follows the migration of the monarch butterfly. Through her own journey, she learns about other animals that migrate to survive.

“It gets into the science of the butterfly’s journey from Mexico, north and back, the polar bear’s migration into the Arctic ice path, the Godwit bird and sperm whales,” Ford said. “The girl adds a human touch to the story, and she is traveling, too, making it more fun for the kids.”

The show will include puppets and animation.

Ford is the creator of Golden Rod Puppets. These puppets are named for their focus on rod puppetry, including many related styles of puppetry, which involve the use of rods.

“I work with traditional European-style rod puppets, shadow puppets, adapted bunraku puppets, as well as contemporary hand and rod puppets,” Ford said.

The monarch butterfly has been in the news of late because of its dwindling population. Ford’s extensive knowledge and attempt to create a puppeted animated version of its journey works as an education for children.

“My great-grandfather was a Harvard entomologist and wrote a book on what was then called the ‘milkweed butterfly,’ ” Ford said.

“Migration” has six main puppet characters, all managed by Ford single-handedly.

“I have learned to manipulate lots of rods at once, which is more of an Asian way of puppetry,” he said. “To operate Beatriz, I have little magnetic platforms that come off my knees that her feet are attached to; as I walk, her feet walk; as my knees go up and down, her feet move. I operate her head and arms with rods that are similar to chopsticks. She is very realistic in her movements.”

Ford calls the explosion of puppets in the performing arts world a “renaissance of puppets.”

“Puppets have always been around, whether it was Lion King on Broadway or Warhorse in Lincoln Centre,” Ford said. “In this age of digital technology, people are interested in things done by hand.”

After the show, this real-life Geppetto will introduce some of his favorite puppets to the audience, one of which is a little dog he created 35 years ago, and a bald eagle.

“Puppetry is for all ages,” Ford said. “This show is a great example of that.”