Project Description

About the Work

House of Sparrows was created as a tribute to the sesquicentennial commemoration of the American Civil War in 2015.  With House of Sparrows, I have imagined a kind of dream; a journey through which we are transported back in time into the experience of individuals who lived and died during the epic struggle that redefined a period, a way of life, a country.  It is a dream shifting with the force of change, full of great pain, loss and dislocation, and it takes us to a place where nothing can ever be the same.

The work is in 9 sections. Each section was inspired in some way from archival photographs, essays and personal memoirs from the Civil War. I used these as starting points for trying to imagine what it was like for the average person during that time; images and stories of lives dislocated. I see these lives as part of a “House” – a symbol of a state of mind, an identity, the “House of Self,” fractured and upended. “Home” was also literally and figuratively at the center of the community, the “Collective House,” a symbol of continuity and connection, torn apart and displaced, and that idea extended to a nation divided on itself.

In my research I was struck by a quote, which for me, allowed this dark and terrible dream to begin to resurface; the acknowledgement of the inevitability of change, with or without our understanding.

“A singular fact about modern war is that it takes charge. Once began it has to be carried to its conclusion, and carrying it there sets in motion events that may be beyond men’s control. Doing what has to be done to win, men perform acts that alter the very soil in which society’s roots are nourished.  They bring about infinite change, not because anyone especially wants it, but because all-out warfare destroys so much that things can never again be as they used to be.

“In the 1860’s the overwhelming mass of people in the North and in the South, were conservatives who hated the very notion of change. Life in America had been good and it had been fairly simple, and most people wanted to keep it that way. The Northerner wanted to preserve the old Union, and the Southerner wanted to preserve the semi-feudal society in which he lived; and an unspoken aim in each section was to win a victory which would let people go back to what they had in a less turbulent day. But after a war cuts as deeply and goes as long as the Civil War, no one goes “back” to anything at all. Everybody goes on to something new…”

The American Heritage New History of the Civil War – narrative by Bruce Catton, Viking/Penguin Group

Credited Artists:

  • Choreography: David Shimotakahara – in collaboration with Felise Bagley, Noelle Cotler, Damien Highfield and Annika Sheaff
  • Music Composed by: Steven Snowden
  • Music Performed by: The Aeolus Quartet: Nicholas Tavani – violin, Rachel Shapiro – violin, Greg Luce – viola, Alan Richardson – cello
  • Lighting: Dennis Dugan
  • Video: Nic Petry, Dancing Camera
  • Set: Ian Petroni
  • Props: Ian Petroni
  • Costumes: Janet Bolick
  • Sound: Chuck Karnak
  • Photography: Mark Horning
  • Dancers: Felise Bagley, Noelle Cotler, Annika Sheaff, Damien Highfield


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