(THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS)
“..And to stir the mind, to search after what it fain would find, things that seem to be hid in words obscure, do but the godly mind the more allure, to study…” These words by great Sufi master Farid ud-Din Attar may be found in his classic work of poetry, Conference of the Birds. Since its creation centuries ago, it has been translated to many languages, pored over by Muslim and non-Muslim scholars and academics alike, and in the 70s, was adapted into a play by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carrière.
Now, experience it in its adaptation into the Malay language and in the form of theatre by local dramatic company Teater Ekamatra. Journey with us as the play depicts the passage of the human spirit in its quest for truth, through the pairing of elements of traditional Malay and regional theatre with those of contemporary theatre. Be immersed in parallel stories - one of travelling birds and another of an old man and his grandchild; one, innocent and naïve, in search of the meaning of everything, the other, in need of reconciliation with ghosts of the past… both, stories of searching and the eventual discovery that the King they seek is non other than themselves.
Presented by Teater Ekamatra, a non-profit theatre company dedicated to developing and producing socially relevant plays that reflect the contemporary Singaporean vernacular. Written by Isa Kamari, winner of the prestigious Southeast Asia Write Award in 2006 and Cultural Medallion Recipient for Literature in 2007. Directed by Sani Hussin, stage and television actor and director. Performed in Malay with English subtitles. Naskhah cukup ringkas tetapi kaya nilai sasteranya. Lembut, tetapi mendalam. Struktur pentas kemas, berfungsi.
- Berita Harian 1 November 2008.
Sidang Burung doesn’t start off well. The actors playing the assembled birds are messily choreographed, parleying with each other about avian mysticism in long speeches which are as poetic as they are slow. Rather more intriguing is the naturalistic dialogue inter-cutting these scenes, between a man and his young (grand)son Farid as they visit Jurong Bird Park. It’s only when the birds begin their journey to visit the Simurgh, the sacred bird, that things get exciting: the chorus starts moving in aesthetically coordinated unison and discord, and the themes of the play’s two sections start coming together: ambition, vision, leadership and community; faith and imagination. And it all concludes quite beautifully, a complex weave of ideas punctuated with a few gemlike visuals...
Special credit must go here to the playwright, for his subtle interweaving of grand themes into this casual banter. Farid's childish ambitions to be king - or president, if kingship is unavailable - play off of the motif of leadership introduced by the appearance of the grandstanding hoopoe and his tales of a feathered monarch. In the same fashion, the hoopoe's mystic visions are paralleled by Farid's ability to see a mysterious bird keeper who's invisible to his grandfather. Even the seven valleys on the way to enlightenment are mirrored when the grandfather mentions a course on The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. Everything that's epic, grandiose and poetic ends up strangely diminished in the human realm.
There's a crucial point to all this, made evident when the grandfather reveals the story behind the phantom bird keeper: the spirit of a good-hearted, simple-minded man who used to tend the birds back when the grandfather was in charge of the park. His name was Hud, but people nicknamed him "Hudhud" (Malay for "hoopoe"), and he was a fat man, so he was teased as "Si Gemuk" ("The Fat One" in Malay) or "Simuk". He had a pet white bird, which he believed was capable of speech, and died falling from a tree branch while attempting to reach the bird - though no-one at the time could see the bird there.
Against his various images of temporal power - kings, presidents and bird park bosses - Isa chooses a fool as the image of the true leader, the man whose identity most closely approximates that of the Simurgh as well as the hoopoe who guides us to that divinity. It's an idea that runs contrary to all our Singaporean ideals of meritocracy and rule by the elite, not actually drawn from the text of The Conference of the Birds yet completely harmonious with its Sufi philosophy which glorifies madmen and the act of losing the self...
My knowledge of Teater Ekamatra's oeuvre is limited, and this the first time our site is reviewing a show in Pesta Raya, the Esplanade's festival of Malay arts. Still, I think I can safely state that this play is out of the ordinary, principally because of its integration of naturalism into a work otherwise based in myth - a rather rare strategy in our theatre scene, so often inclined toward the surreal.
What's also important in this case is that the naturalism worked better than the myth, and helped to imbue its ideas with more complexity and relevance than if presented unadorned. It's not always the most dreamlike presentation that moves us most. Sometimes, the key to mysticism lies among the real.
Ng Yi-Sheng, Flying Inkpot
however, i think kesidang burungan is a huge good step in the Malay arts. a performance which wanted to bring meaning. i'm sure the play didn't start out to be portrayed as Islamic. and people might get confused. but i guess it will somehow open up people's minds, especially the mainstream people, the play is not too difficult to understand if you do away with the details and the original work of Attar. the physical movement, the little humours, the brief songs and musics, it will be stamped to the mainstream's minds, and tell them: Look! there is this sufistic islamic artwork known as the Conference of the birds, full of meaning and wise teachings, which you can apply to your life, read it and realise it. your love is for God.
well, i can say, i enjoyed ke-sidang burung-an and it has opened up my mind and create a critical channel in my thinking system. we definitely should have more of this genre in the arts scene.
From blog : Poetic Living Theatre “Sidang Burung” in Esplanade generates a certain degree of deep-thinking and philosophy.for me, it’s like a poetry in motion, artistic and metaphorical.certainly not an easy play to interpret. only after looking at the whole pict (the brochure helped a bit!) did i realise what it was all about.From blog: Knick-Knack
Persepsi yang bermain di mindaku adalah kerunsingan; Mampukah aku memahami jalan ceritanya kelak? Akankah aku mampu menghayati pendekatan fahaman sufi yang akan diketengahkan? Nyata sekali, persembahan ini telah diarah dengan begitu jelas, padat dan telah berjaya mengupas isu-isu berat yang ingin diperkatakan tanpa membingungkan audiensnya yang rata-ratanya mungkin tidak pernah pun terdengar tentang sajak-sajak Parsi Farid ud-Din Attar..
From blog: Gerobok Pandora