Stage & Dance

Niece’s death provided inspiration for revised dance performance

The heart of 'The Broken Queen'

Blackbird Dance Theatre director Jenny Fitzpatrick talks about the story of "The Broken Queen," showing Sept. 21 to 24 at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center.
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Blackbird Dance Theatre director Jenny Fitzpatrick talks about the story of "The Broken Queen," showing Sept. 21 to 24 at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center.

Jenny Fitzpatrick created “The Broken Queen,” as a story of three sisters, inspired by her own life with her older sister, Carmen, and their niece, Sara Elizabeth Fitzpatrick.

But as the show was developing, Sara was killed in a car accident in Allen County.

Fitzpatrick continued work on “The Broken Queen,” and it debuted in June 2014 at the Downtown Arts Center in a performance highlighted by the presence of local rockers Chico Fellini providing the music. It signaled the launch of Blackbird Dance Theatre, Fitzpatrick’s modern dance company and school on Moore Drive.

“We did it, and I felt good about it, but I never felt like I was fully present,” Fitzpatrick says of the original production.

Three years later, “The Broken Queen” is back, and very different from the original because it’s inspired by Fitzpatrick’s late niece.

“After her passing, I was cleaning out her bedroom and read her journals ... She had a lot she wanted to share, artistically and as herself, and I may have never known it,” Fitzpatrick says. “So I allowed her to influence this project and combined some of her thoughts with mine.

“It seemed right to take some of the characters from the original and elaborate on them in ways, and talk about how we can heal after death, in all ways.”

The show now focuses on a woman, La Reina, who is portrayed in a film before the live performance by Fitzpatrick. La Reina leaves her home and decides she wants to “stop living,” as Fitzpatrick describes it. A bird eats her heart, but it is later returned to her, and she meets a community of dolls that receive pieces of her heart that grown in themselves, and they begin experiencing emotions and relationships, love and all the messy things that come with having a heart.

Fitzpatrick says the story was inspired by “Alice in Wonderland,” the philosophy of Alan Watson, hero stories, and other primarily fantasy influences.

“It’s like if Marvel and Edgar Allen Poe got together to do a show — that’s my tendency,” Fitzpatrick says.

Again, there is original music from Fitzpatrick’s regular collaborator, Duane Lundy, this time without the band, but with contributions from artists including keyboardist Lee Carroll. The multidisciplinary ambitions continue into the film by Melissa Ajayi.

But the heart of the show, particularly this edition, is Sara.

“I don’t know that I would have picked it back up again,” Fitzpatrick says. “I don’t know that I would have been intrigued to go back and revisit it. I never felt complete because I felt out of myself for the back part of that project, because I was just trying to heal.

“So, 29 to 33, I have grown up a lot and experienced a lot of life changes, and it turned into a completely different thing. It’s not the same show at all.”

One key element Fitzpatrick reflects on is the decision to die, which takes her back to the hours after the accident, when Sara’s condition was fluctuating. Fitzpatrick says she thinks her niece was having an out-of-body experience, trying to decide if she wanted to live with the paralysis that would have resulted from the accident.

“It always stuck with me that she was she was trying to make a choice,” Fitzpatrick says.

Beyond that moment, Fitzpatrick says, the show reflects the influence of the young woman she knew and who she discovered after her passing.

“It explores her heart or the way I believe she might feel right now,” Fitzpatrick said before a Thursday night rehearsal. “It’s helped me heal.”

“She was quiet and silly and very stoic, and I always felt that she didn’t spend a lot of time telling people how she really felt; she was very passive,” Fitzpatrick says. “That made her wonderful to be around and easy to get along with, but she had a lot to say that I felt she never said.”

In reading Sara’s journals, Fitzpatrick learned much more about her niece. “She was very concerned with expectation and being a good person, being a great person, and possibly not ever being able to be that. In some senses, she didn’t get to. But to me, she was great, and in some sense, that’s what this piece is about: All it takes is one person to give you a piece of their heart, and it stays with you forever.”

Rich Copley: 859-231-3217, @LexGoKY.

If you go

‘The Broken Queen’

What: Original production written and choreographed by Jenny Fitzpatrick with music by Duane Lundy, and a short film by Melissa Ajayi

When: 8 p.m. through Sept. 24

Where: Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.

Tickets: $25 adults, $15 students

Call: 859-425-2550

Online: Blackbirddancetheatre.com, Bit.ly/2fBnt9w (tickets)

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