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Conference of the Birds

Conference of the Birds is an interdisciplinary movement-based work by ANIKAYA Dance Theater exploring themes of travel and migration.


In the Spring of 2018, with support from a Building Bridges grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, a Live Arts Boston grant from The Boston Foundation, a commission from the Boston Center for the Arts, and a Pillow Lab residency from Jacob’s Pillow, ANIKAYA Dance Theater will create The Conference of the Birds. Conference of the Birds will be an evening-length movement theater work with live, original music, inspired by the epic poem of Farid Ud din Attar, and embodying stories gathered from modern-day refugees and other migrants.

For this project, we have gathered dancers and musicians from around the world who share a culture of travel. Collaborating include artists from Benin, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Japan and the US.

Music will be composed by a team of three composer/musicians, led by Boston-based Shaw Pong Liu. Liu will be joined by Iranian-Canadian neyzen and composer Shaho Andalibi and Paris-based electronic music/producer Eric Reynaud (AKA Fraction). The instrumentation will mirror the diversity of the dancers and other contributing artists, creating a soundscape representative of the potentially harmonious cacophony of humanity, at times reminiscent of bird song. The music will be performed live.

The Conference of the Birds is a tale of a group of birds that set off in search of the mythical bird, the Simurgh.  Many of the birds abandon the quest. When the remaining birds arrive in the land of the Simurgh[1], they find themselves reflected – they are the Simurgh.

We will use Conference as a frame for the narratives gathered from refugees, symbolizing the journey that we, the diversity that is humanity, take together.  It is a story of found community, of the necessity of difference.

The performance will be total theater. The narrative will be many-layered, with stories told through a movement and sound language drawing on the extremely diverse bodies and vocabulary of the dancers and the equally diverse sonic languages of the musicians.

We will engage with refugee and other immigrant communities throughout. In the first stage of the project, we will conduct a series of workshops that will introduce participants of all ages to the stories and structure of The Conference of the Birds, as well as involve them directly in the creative process.  We will gather stories in many media – in text, through video and photo documentation, in movement phrases, and in visual art expressions. This process will provide the first layer of narrative for the project. These stories will provide inspiration for the choreography of the final work, as well as travel with the touring work.

In these times, when migration is at the forefront of our collective consciousness, we need spaces where people of different communities can come together and experience each others reality without fear. This work, and the process we will continually engage in to create it, and recreate it, will be about the potential of shared experience to overcome perceived differences.

[1]“Si-murgh” is Farsi for “thirty birds.”

Project Media

Arise for 18 string players
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Features: Shaw Pong Liu

Site-specific, birdsong-based composition by Shaw Pong Liu for 18 solo string players and the Calderwood Hall at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA. Commissioned and premiered by A Far Cry on April 4, 2013.

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Features: Wendy Jehlen

(R)evolve is a collaboration between choreographers/dancers Wendy Jehlen (US) and Marcel Gbeffa (Benin). (R)evolve is a carefully constructed ritual, drawing on ecstatic practices from cultures around the world. The result is a pulsing, driving, mesmerizing hour-long journey. The ritual is built on a cycle of repetition and expansion, doubling back on itself like the coils of a snake.

Marcel will also be one of the dancers in Conference of the Birds.

Saz o Avaz Maqam Shur
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Features: Shaho Andalibi

From Shaho Andalibi’s album Nashmil Nashmil, 2013.

Start and End Dates



Boston, Massachusetts

Project Created By

Somerville, Massachusetts
Wendy Jehlen’s unique approach to choreography incorporates elements of Bharata Natyam; Odissi; Capoeira, Kalaripayattu, West African dance, Butoh, and a wide-range of Contemporary dance forms. Wendy’s career has been marked by international explorations, study and creative collaboration. Her emotionally powerful choreography has been created and performed in the US, Canada, Italy, India, Japan, Brazil, Burkina…

In Collaboration With

Boston, Massachusetts
projection designer


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