This is a performance piece for those looking for something which is visually stimulating and a percussion soundscape. If you’re prepared to form an assumption from Elnaz Sheshgelani’s emotionally charged dialogue and expressive dance movements, you will be well rewarded.

Opening night was unusually warm and wet, for Spring. Elnaz Sheshgelani is a unique performer. She entertains before the performance begins. The audience enter and tip toe past her into the theatre. Her face is adorned with paint and a Persian type tiara, she is on the floor on all fours. She wipes a sodden floor free from footprints. We are privy to her warm up of physical jerks for the dance component. She has uncannily set the scene and humbly draws the audience in.

Elnaz Sheshgelani is the Persian storyteller, Naghali. We witness her account of a 12th century poem by Farid Ud-Din Attar and the original work by Peter Brook. The poem is a mythical journey of thirty birds in search of their Phoenix type bird. It is spoken mainly in Old Persian language. Portions of English dialogue, light projection, puppets and music direct the story. The process may pose a challenge for some.

Interpretive dance and Persian singing pepper the philosophical overtones of the birds frantic search. The Naghali unfolds the birds undertaking with puppeteering of integral characters including a large King. Sheshgelani sings with a delightful delicate voice or elaborates in a witch like chanting to accentuate the pitfalls in the birds quest.

A collaboration of direction expresses an ancient Persian philosophy with references to modern day similarities. Sheshgelani is the thirsty birds with hand and arm gestures. Her black gloved arm is disguised as a blackbird and advises the birds to “go back to the comfort of your homes” and “the land is free under your wings until you land”.

Their pilgrimage is not dissimilar to daily life. The dance and puppets identify truths and confrontations when the birds choose their King. The Naghali’s witchy voice suggests, “education is there though costly” the same as any quest for knowledge.

We see Sheshgelani’s synthesis with her injection of pop culture. She sings a candid chorus of the Beatles “love,love, love” and more recently, Jon English version of the song Six Ribbons, “to tie back her hair”. An interesting way to tell the untruths of love versus people and their quest for power.

A severe scrapping sound of a steel bowl on a the side of a steel drum and traditional sounds from the Iraqi Santur compliment the birds peril. The domestic percussive objects added to the story without overwhelming it.

This is not a conference, it’s a private performance in a petite public domain. La Mama Theatre, Naghli and Simon Fisher manipulate a light projection onto card board cut out puppets of varying size. Together with language, light and sound they tell the mythical story.

Symbolism of the birds is a constant reminder in the form of light projection onto the puppets. Two distinctive parrots, love birds, mates for life. Some of this imagery gets lost in translation until English dialogue filled in the gaps.

I found it hard at times to pay attention to the story as the small theatre cast distracting shadows and colours from the projection. Basic lighting or other pictures would have avoided this confusion.

The story was fascinating with non-conformist dialogue such as, “cleverness should be tempered with kindness” and “there’s enough land for everybody”. Speaking volumes about the state of our humanity.

A gentle tap of the drum allowed us a moment of contemplation in the denouement.

It’s a presentation you experience not consume. The Bird’s Conference, has a deeper message. Prepare for a long haul flight to extract it. A post performance beverage and refined discussion may be required to digest the piece.

 

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