Swimming in a sea of birds
The set for Sebastienne Mundheim’s Sea of Birds is a sight to behold. Two enormous paper curtains greet me. They seem to billow even while still. Beyond the curtains is an enormous, teepee-like tent structure that Sebastienne and her creative team built this summer, using bamboo, tracing paper, and cheesecloth. Around the inner perimeter of tent sit different set pieces: bundles of sticks wait in the corners of the tent; three pairs of large boots stand to one side; life-sized papier mache puppets lie in the foreground. Beside the tent, a group of tiny puppets, made out of wine bottle corks, lie on a miniature bed with a patchwork blanket.
<%image(20080730-gregor small.jpg|250|222|Photo: Jacques-Jean Tiziou/www.jjtiziou.net)%>
Sebastienne narrates Sea of Birds, which she has based on stories from her mother’s childhood in Latvia during the Second World War. As she speaks, the set pieces and puppets come to life. The bundles of sticks become part of a dance; the pairs of boots begin to march as she introduces the German soldiers who are occupying Latvia, and living in her mother’s home. Lights and shadows play against the delicate paper walls of the tent. Sebastienne walks to one corner of the room where a network of strings and gears merge. She carefully pulls one string and three scrims (projection screens) descend from the walls of the tent. One of her performers turns on the slide projectors inside the tent, and the faces of the cork puppets appear on the scrims, in large scale. Sebastienne stops the rehearsal—she wants to try this part again, to see if lowering the scrims from inside the tent makes things look smoother. I feel like I’ve just woken up from a dream.
<%image(20080826-danielledog.jpg|657|480|Performer Danielle Paloumpis in rehearsal)%>