The Detroit Institute of Art (a Knight Arts grantee) recently hosted The Nana Projects’s “Alonzo’s Lullaby“ as part of the museum’s Family Sunday programming. It was a very unique shadow puppet performance, as well as a technical feat, performed by three puppeteers (aka lanterneers) using three overhead projectors and cutouts made of plastic and acrylic gels, and accompanied by live music. The puppeteers expertly manipulated slides across their projectors to bring movement to the characters and their backgrounds, making it appear almost as though it was an animated show. The slides themselves were gorgeous works of art all on their own, exuding an austere and tragic air. The slides, combined with the music of ellen cherry (ed note: the artist does not capitalize her name), enchanted the audience, bringing the viewers into a different time and place, both in the story — which was set in WWI-era America — and in the performance, which uniquely combined technologies and techniques from earlier eras to tell a timeless tale.
“Alonzo’s Lullaby” is based on a true and sad event. In 1918, the conductor of an empty train fell asleep in the very early morning and crashed into the rear of a train carrying the Hagenback-Wallace Circus, killing nearly 100 clowns, acrobats and roustabouts. Following the collision, the train’s conductor — Alonzo Sergeant — hid in a nearby field for several days before finally emerging and confessing his role in the accident. Although this event forms the foundation of the show, much of the focus is on the love between Gus and Lola, two circus performers whose relationship is tragically ended just as it’s beginning to flourish.
The Nana Projects is based out of Baltimore, Md., and the group has performed across the country, receiving a project grant from the Jim Henson Foundation and earning the prestigious Union Internationale de la Marionette-USA Citation of Excellence in Puppetry.