Based on the original poem by 12th century Farīd ud-Dīn Attar, spending an hour watching the premiere performance of Conference of the Birds at BroadStage on Saturday, June 18, 2022 was an extraordinary theater experience that bordered on being a spiritual journey. Sung a cappella, the Librettist for Conference of the Birds was by Sholeh Wolpé who translated Farīd ud-Dīn Attar’s work into English. The composer of gorgeous voices was Fahad Siadat and the Director and Choreographer who did an extraordinary job was André Megerdichian.
The basic story of Conference of the Birds is that thousands of birds gather from around the world to decide who their sovereign shall be. The wisest of all the birds, hoopoe, suggests that they should seek out the legendary Simorgh. They travel thousands of miles across seven valleys (Guest, Love, Knowledge, Detachment, Unity, Wonderment, and Poverty and Annihilation) in search of Simorgh. Only 30 birds survive this journey and whey they finally reach their destination they are faced with a mirror that reflects back their own images and understand that the sovereign they seek has always been within themselves.
This is not a spiritual teaching that is shared by many eastern religions. I have read this in teachings by Indian masters or gurus and others. What was so rewarding about this particular production was, although we were told during an introduction by Wolpé, that one felt that as if we were the birds who were experiencing this spiritual awakening.
The voices of the wonderful cast of singers, led by composer Siadat, carried one through the journey, helping one to see, understand, and feel the obstacles the birds faced, their pain of defeat, and the joy of those 30 whose quest was realized. Special kudos must be given to Siadat who took his chorus of singers and composed a symphony without any other musical instruments. The entire evening was sung a cappella, with the stunning voices becoming a full orchestra.
Choreographer Megerdichian seamlessly wove the singers, who also moved and danced, and the two beautiful dancers, Catalina Jackson-Urueña, and Tippy Dringman through all twelve sections of the 60 minute work. Never did it feel like now we listen to singers and now we watch dancers. The entire hour was as one tapestry of voices, text, dance, and theater.
A wonderful phrase was repeatedly sung between each section; a bit of wisdom that all should consider: “If you are able to find the ocean, why seek out a drop of dew?”
The costumes by Kate Poppen, with a few exceptions, did little to enhance the singers’ bodies. Those for the dancers, however, were lovely. R.S. Buck’s lighting was well executed with a few far too obvious sections such as in Valley of Love, saturating the back wall with rose red.
The extremely talented featured singers were: Anne Harley, Hoopoe; Amanda Achen, Soprano; Molly Pease, Mezzo-soprano; Saunder Choi, Tenor; Paul Chwe MinChul An, Baritone; David Conley, Baritone; James Hayden, Bass; Kirk Averitt, Bass; Drew Corey, Soprano; Corona De Los Santos, Tenor; Kion Heidari, Tenor; Vera Lugo, Alto; Ianthe Marini, Soprano; Joslyn Sarshad, Soprano; Ariana Stultz, Alto; Jacob Sidney, Bass; Chloé Vaught, Soprano; and Elizabeth Waller, Alto.
Composer: Fahad Siadat; poet/LIBRETTIS: Sholeh Wolpé; Original Story: Farīd ud-Dīn Attar; Lighting Design: R.S. Buck; Costume Design: Kate Poppen; Stage Manager: Anna Klevit; and Rehearsal Director Jennifer Deckert.
Conference of the Birds was presented with The Resonance Collective; Sponsored, in part, by Farhang Foundation; and Supported, in part by First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, and Scripps Presents, the public programming series at Scripps College.
To learn more about BroadStage, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Cast of Conference of the Birds – Photo by Vafa Khatami