Never before have I seen a show like this one. The concept itself – of birds on a journey to find their king, encumbered by human faults – is unique as it is. However, this theatrical production took it a few steps farther, so as to add compelling Turkish-style music, whirling dervish inspired choreography, middle-eastern inspired costumes, and a set simple in view, but complicated in its acceptation. Excelling beyond their surroundings were the birds themselves, who used fascinating movements to tell their story along with the poetic words of Farid ud-Din Attar.
Before the show began I had many questions: why don’t they look like birds? What is the significance of the cracks in the circles on the floor? Why is that guy doing sit-ups? However, as the play continued, all the pieces began to fall into place for me. The actors didn’t look like birds in dress, (well, except for David Singleton, who is the perfect peacock), so much as their voices and body language.
When the show actually started, I was stunned by the use of percussion by the cast along with the music from the instrumentalists offstage. The choreography was well-timed and well executed, with what I thought was the perfect amount of tension – usually in four!
I was very impressed with my classmates and their display of talents. Shaquan Pearson proved to be a very good sparrow. I enjoyed the way he stood, leaning slightly forward on his toes and metatarsals – it personified the idea of nervous energy he emitted, without actually moving all that much. He certainly seemed, “very impatient to go.” Maddiie Valikhovskaya, I thought, did some nice floating moves when she was the storyteller, but suffers from trying to look good and so her floats occasionally have an underscored insecure tension. Yian Zhang had a very lovely flow, (as usual,) particularly as the princess, which helped the story move along at a nice pace. Josh skipped gleefully, almost insanely, shouting, “I love my king!” which made me almost as giddy as he was with laughter. Cisco Borja leads with his chest, which was fitting given that he acted as their leader, and had a strong heart. Da’Von Moody was superb as the falcon, standing determinedly and with purpose with every line, seeming taller than he really is.
Two of my favorite moments were the storm and listening to the hermit man’s story. The hermit and his aubergine were compelling in the most hysterical of ways. The actor playing the old man got it right, from the voice to the posture – his shoulders slightly slumped, hips and knees somewhat out, and his beard reaching for the floor. His slashy rips of his beard at the end of his rant were almost too funny to handle, and I’m surprised the birds on stage contained their laughter for as long as they did.
The storm was by far the most amazing piece of movement in the show. I was lucky enough to be facing the birds as they tried to journey in my direction, and felt as if I truly experienced what they were experiencing. The sporadic and haunting cello, flashes of lightning, and movement of the actors created an authentic feeling of a hurricane roaring. I felt as if every performer had the appropriate amount of weight, and faithfully portrayed a sense of being pushed back by the wind with the way they pulled themselves backward. They held onto each other as if clinging to whatever they could find which was solid, with a high amount of tension, and a vice-like grip. They emulated the element of air quite well with the way their bodies sometimes rippled back with the force of the gales. I marveled at the energy the birds must have expended in this endeavor.
There were few exceptions to the exceptional quality of movement presented in the performance, but two I would like to speak of concern the owl and the snakes. Firstly, the interpretation of the owl was completely wrong. I’m not sure if this is due to how it’s represented in the poem or decisions made in the production, but I truly had a problem with it. The owl was played by a skinny woman who seemed shy in her unsteady feet and childish, flicking arms. She told the other birds how she liked her forest and her trees and her home, and didn’t want to go, in a way that suggested her fear of leaving. None of this is in keeping with how owls are in real life and in myth.
Owls are wise creatures who hunt stealthily at night, swooping past while barely making a sound, devoid of any remorse when they conquer and consume their kill. This owl woman seemed like she’d never killed anything in her life, and lacked the capability to do so. Robert Lake-Thom of the Cherokee and Seneca tribes describes the Owl and its speaking voice in Native American legend in this way: “Look at my eyes; see how strange they are, but how much power I have in them… I can see anything, here, far away, or even into the future. That is why nothing can hide from me. And I am strong; I can kill anything with my claws. I am a good hunter and warrior; I am silent and can sneak up on anything and kill it without it noticing me.”  None of these ideas were echoed in the movement of the performer. It would have been more effective if she had moved her head slowly back and forth stemming from the chin, as owls creepily do, perhaps in a gliding motion. This accompanied with a pompous or superior demeanor would have made me think of the owl more than her frightened ‘hoot’ did. Or maybe, if she had just been called a more flighty bird, like a chickadee or a starling, I would have understood the choices for her movement.
Another moment I truly didn’t understand was the telling of the story about the people lost in the woods, trying not to get bitten by snakes. One snake was portrayed by Zhang, who performed the slithering motion quite well. The other was portrayed by a rather large woman (whose name I don’t know,) who frankly looked ridiculous as she attempted to slide across the stage. Even when a snake is engorged from a recent meal, it still maintains the graceful ability to slide, (or glide or wring I suppose, in Laban terms,) across the terrain. Snakes move in a way to suggest they are slippery and slimy even though they are not, and this woman was simply too large or too stiff to embody this, and ended up just kind of flopping awkwardly instead. Luckily her surrounding performers were so intensely surreal in their portrayal of the trees – especially the ones who were paired to form complicated shapes – that I wasn’t too distracted by her for long.
But, that is all I’ll say of negative things. There was too much in the show to adore to focus on those small problems. In fact, I shall list thoughts I had written down that are of a more positive nature right now:
- Instruments + intense gazes = cool
- David: sudden, jerky, upset, crazed – dab? Flick? Love it!
- This old dude is f-cking beast!!!!!!
- The lights are so dope!
- Love – swirling in patterns looks awesome. Male/male woman/woman dancing together yay lgbt!
- Oh cool, they became a scorpion
All in all, I must reiterate that this production was one of the finest I have ever seen. It was as if every moment was hand-crafted for the viewer to enjoy. The symbolism of humankind’s search for enlightenment as performed by the birds is a beautiful metaphor that I feel everyone can understand. When the lights came down around the cast and they, “saw that they were one being,” and that the, “sum of their majesty was a mirror,” I was astounded by the depth of this thought, and the correlations between human development and self-realization. Finally, the movement executed wonderfully epitomized the idea put forth in the show: “Nothing is more dangerous than standing still.”
 From, “Spirits of the Earth” published by the Penguin Group, 1997. Page 118.
This was written in Spring 2016 for a Theatre class taught by KenYatta Rogers at Montgomery College. The picture is not my own and was taken from a photo gallery on the MC website, which you can see here.