Go Deeper

REACTION: Sebastienne Mundheim’s Sea of Birds

Posted September 1st, 2008

Upon entering the room, it’s clear Sea of Birds will be a magical piece. The seating is a good indicator of the sense of intimacy within the space: two lines of chairs, several rows of cushions cut from aerospace material, then a series of large beanbag pillows are arranged neatly across the floor. Of course those are taken quickly. As the crowd filters in and chooses to sit, perch, or sprawl, we all gaze up at the huge, spanning material that runs to the ceiling. It’s thin paper, like parchment or boat sails, that sways slightly as it reflects the cooling light projected onto it.

<%image(20080901-Hebert Sea of Birds Marcelo + Danielle.jpg|350|280|Photo: William Hebert)%> I’ve overheard the piece being described as dreamlike–that’s true. Throughout the piece, ambient music filters in and out of the audience’s consciousness as the dancers move as if lulled, hypnotically. At first, the performance presents a shadow dance behind the hanging parchment. The silhouettes hold birds-like objects, circling the things around their heads and through the air. Their slow movements seem to retard time, perhaps introducing another dimension altogether. Certainly, we’ve entered into a fantasy.

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Soon dancers hoist the swaying material to the side, revealing a breathtaking apparatus. This is the dancers’ space. It’s like a tent. Flower-ish objects litter the floor like a field, amongst them lie the dancers dressed in black. As the dancers come to life, they swirl and swoop and move erratically and we are taken into the narrative of Sebastienne’s personal history, to Latvia where her mother grew up during the time of the Nazi occupation.

Sebastienne begins to tell her story. She speaks poetically with a quieted, even tone as she describes her mother’s country, then her town, and her house. She’s always used stories, she says, to help her remember, but also to forget.

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She speaks and the dancers move, introducing enormous skeletal puppets. We watch as Sebastienne tells of the strangeness of the Germans in her mother’s home, of the invasion, and of their flight through the forest and to the Baltic Sea: their escape. It takes a moment to return to your senses when the piece finishes. It’s over all too quickly and we’re left wanting more of the story, to keep remembering.

–Sarah Jacoby

Learn more about Sea of Birds.

Photos by Bill Hebert. Visit Bill’s website at