Feathers of Fire
Feathers of Fire: A Persian Epic comes to life with a cast of eight actors and puppeteers, 160 puppets, 137 animated backgrounds and 1163 audio/visual cues (why the show is introduced with this disclaimer is unclear). And yet, once the laborious work of the puppeteers is cast onto the screen to project the Persian epic the Shahnameh in its cinematic form (as “shadow theatre”) the sense of craftsmanship is washed away. Admittedly, Feathers of Fire is a visually unique experience, but it quickly becomes an exhausting one.
Created and directed by Hamid Rahmanian, a 2014 Guggenheim fellow, the performance takes on a familiar tale told in a novel form. The form is “shadow theatre” developed by the interdisciplinary artist. As the label suggests, the production involves the work of actors and puppeteers manipulating masks and sets behind a screen. The audience follows only projected silhouettes. Ultimately, the concocted grandeur of the show is lacking and diminishes the narrative intrigue. The shadows have no depth; the characters’ faces lack expression. It’s difficult to find a point of entry. Rahmanian relies heavily on the characters’ journeys from one location to the next to create a sense of narrative movement. The illusion is not exactly successful. The result is stasis. Characters merely bob in place as the story begs them to propel it forward. The shadows’ flatness sinks the story.
Though the end result is peculiar, the show is a testament to innovation. Rahmanian is an evident force paving the path for new forms of visual storytelling while simultaneously paying homage to existing traditions. It’s interesting but not enticing in its current streaming availability. Needless to say, it is far more beguiling to watch the actors casting the shadows onto the screen to understand their carefully choreographed movements than it is to witness their shadows’ meagre attempt to tell the tale.
Feathers of Fire is released digitally on Vimeo on 9th May 2020.
Watch the trailer for Feathers of Fire here: