stage manager: Răzvan Pojonie
lighting technician: Alexandru Corpodean
sound technician: Marius Rusu
„Today the artists have taken up the role of the shaman. Possibly because both art and shamanism use the realm of rituals where feelings are expressed and change happens. Both artist and shaman create harmony first within the individual, then between the individual and the wider environment, till it affects the whole society. Here, with the voice of the Shaman, we would like to evoke the essentials of life, which we have forgotten about in our pursuit of money and power. You are invited to join a journey.
Artistic sorcery and Oriental occultism, nicely packaged in the new premiere of the National Theater of Cluj-Napoca, entitled - in a doubly enticing manner - Shamanistic Songs and The Quest. In the intimacy of the Euphorion Studio, the Turkish director Çağlar Yiğitoğulları has created the proper atmosphere for a series of shamanistic rituals inspired by the Persian poem The Conference of the Birds by Farid ud-Din Attar (translated by Ramona Tripa). The Oriental scents greet you as soon as you step into the room, while the actors' costumes take you back to immemorial times. Most of the musical instruments used in the show are percussion instruments (both ancient and modern), suggesting the importance of rhythm as the prime musical element. The entire cast interpreted the delicate melodies, while the rhythm was always ritualistic, as suggested by the director and amplified on stage (...). The simplicity of the lyrics is endowed with a fabulous amplitude and healing echoes when interpreted by the actors. Zen enlightenment ensues, being driven by the declamation of the lines, which is never didactic (...). The shamanistic rhythm creates the mystery, the magic, because, without doubt, theater is by and large a form of magic. The "shamanistic songs" brought onstage by Çağlar Yiğitoğulları help us remember this through the intercultural dialogue they rely on, as well as by reaffirming life's essential values, regardless of our geographic location. It hurts, but it's beautiful becomes a dictum, pointing to the indetermination and thrill of existence. The initiation proposed by the shaman-director is a show and a meditation at the same time and was well-received by the public. The spectators resonated with the message, sang along and applauded enthusiastically. The spell was successful.
Body language is essential on this journey to initiation. A search for something, rituals, complete freedom, nudity (no prudishness allowed), physical exhaustion, which is extremely necessary to reach inner harmony. Then, the harmony invades the outside world, as well, it spreads globally. Because every person is "an ocean in a drop" and is called to leave their comfort zone in order to find their own spiritual identity.
Alexandru Jurcan, A Dramatic Marathon from Cluj to Iași, Tribuna, 16-31 May, p. 29
Farīd al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm ʿAṭṭār (cca. 1142 - cca. 1221) was a Persian poet and one of the most important Sufic writers and thinkers. He is the author of a vast collection of poems belonging to the philosophical tradition of Islamic mysticism, as well as prose, including biographies and a collection of aphorisms by the most popular Islamic mystics.
Little is known about the biography of Farid ud-Din Attar and there is much controversy about his life - which was intensely mythologized - as well as about the authenticity of the texts attributed to him throughout history.
Based on the information we have, Farid ud-Din traveled extensively, studied and collected stories and aphorisms by the Sufic masters. He visited, among other places, Egypt, Syria, Central Asia and India, before returning to and settling down in his native city Nīshāpūr in the North-Eastern part of contemporary Iran.
His name, Attar, means "perfumer" or "pharmacist" and it is believed that this was his profession, which he practised and that he was known for during his life - a job which must have involved close contact with people, an opportunity to discover their stories and the constant drive to meditate on the meaning of life. His literary work remained unknown during his life - at least outside Nīshāpūr - and was only (re)discovered in the fifteenth century.
It is believed that Attar was killed by one of Genghis Khan's soldiers during the Mongolian attack on Nīshāpūr in 1221. As a tribute to his significant ulterior impact on the literatures of the surrounding Islamic peoples, today there is a mausoleum in Nīshāpūr, dedicate to the writer. The mausoleum was built in his honor by Ali-Shir Nava'i in the sixteenth century and was renovated in 1940, during the reign of Reza Shah.
The image is in the public domain. It is no longer protected by copyright.
The image is an imaginary portrait of Farid ud-Din Attar, taken from the book Sayr mulhimah: min al-Sharq wa-al-Gharb, translated for the first time in Arabic and published in Egypt in 1961. The author of the sketch remains unknown.
By Ramona Tripa
MANTIQ AL-TAYR - THE CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS
The Conference of the Birds is the most famous text by Farid ud-Din Attar. It is often compared to Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Parliament of Fowls. Similar to these literary works, The Conference of the Birds is based on the metaphor of travel, of the pilgrimage, and has multiple semantic levels. The text is emblematic of Farid ud-Din Attar's poetry, which develops the teachings of Islamic mysticism and promotes living one's life in the service of people, giving up any superficial things and valuing what is truly important. Attar urges us to erase all divisions based on race, religion, class, and highlights the importance of human solidarity.
Like many of his poems, The Conference of the Birds belongs to the literary genre mathnawi (or masnavi), with rhyming couplets. Attar adopted a certain cadence, which was later imitated by Rumi in his famous work Masnavi-ye-Ma'navi and became the mathnawi cadence par excellence.
The Conference of the Birds is an allegorical poem which describes the journey of the birds throughout the world, looking for their ruler, the legenda
ry bird Simorgh, whose home is beyond the seven valleys. Lead by the Hoopoe, the birds set out on a fabulous journey on w
hich they will face many obstacles and difficulties, both physical and emotional. The birds go through many challenges, gr
adually freeing themselves from everything worldly and undergoing an essential transfiguration.
The story is structured around the birds' complaints (having to do with the difficulties of the journey and with the lessons they must learn) and around the Hoopoe's explanations: a series of questions and answers which always include multiple moralizing stories, meant to facilitate the understanding of the story on a deeper level.
The first is the valley of the Pursuit, where the birds must face a hundred challenges, for years on end, until they free themselves from dogmas, belief and disbelief.
The second valley is that of Love, where nobody can enter unless they become a burning flame. Reason is entirely abandoned in the name of love.
In the third valley, the Valley of Understanding, the birds discover how useless and relative their knowledge actually is. There are many ways of getting through this valley and each bird has its own way of flying.
The fourth valley is the Valley of Detachment, where they must renounce all of their desires and worldly attachments, while reality, as they know it, disappears. The birds' worldview changes completely. An ant has the strength of a hundred elephants.
When they reach the fifth valley, that of Unity, the birds realise that unity and multiplicity are one and the same thing and that everything is connected.
In the sixth valley, the Valley of Wonder, contradictory things seem to coexist. The birds understand that they do not know and have never known anything at all.
The seventh valley is that of Lack and Annihilation, impossible to describe or capture in words.
Only thirty birds reach the home of the Simorgh. The birds await its arrival for a long time and finally understand, by looking at their reflection in its throne, that they themselves are the Simorgh (si - thirty and morgh - bird).
The Conference of the Birds is a well-structured allegory, which describes an inner journey - a pilgrimage within one's own soul, the place where divinity dwells, although it is constantly being sought in the exterior world.
Inspired by Attar's text and by its deep meanings, the Turkish director Çağlar Yiğitoğulları condensed the story in Shamanistic Songs/The Quest, making it more contemporary and modeling it on the "Shaman-Punk" philosophy which structures his entire oeuvre.
Driven by the belief that, in our modern society, the artist fulfils the role of the shaman, being able to awaken the dormant conscience of the modern man, stifled by superficiality and forgetful of the essential aspects of life, Çağlar Yiğitoğulları transforms
Attar's text into a performance. The result is a unique, magnetic experience, which urges us to explore the depths of our being, to pursue inner transfiguration and to reevaluate both the meaning of life and our purpose in the world.
The image is in the public domain. It is no longer protected by copyright.
The image represents a painted page from a Persian manuscript of The Conference of the Birds, dating back to the year 1600, approximately. The author is Habiballah of Sava. The manuscript belongs to the collection of the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York.
By Ramona Tripa
A Conversation with Çağlar Yiğitoğulları, the director
Çağlar Yiğitoğulları was born in Ankara, Turkey, in 1977. He is a graduate of the Bilkent University of Ankara, the Faculty of Music and Performative Arts, Acting. After graduation, he lived for a while in Australia, between 2001 and 2003, where he studied contemporary dance.
In 2003, he returned to Turkey and was employed as an actor at the Municipal Theater of Istanbul. At the same time, he started producing his own performances, daring shows which explored the limits of the individual, society and the human body. His shows were produced in Turkey, as well as abroad. Diss (2008) and Luvstory (2009) are two of his most well-received productions.
In 2017, discouraged by the infringements on the freedom of speech in Turkey, he moved to Germany, where he lives and works at the moment.
Çağlar Yiğitoğulları has received numerous important awards, such as the "Actor of the Year" Award, from the International Association of Theater Critics, in 2010. Also, he has collaborated with prestigious theaters in Europe, such as Abattoir Fermé (Belgium), the Attis Theater (Greece), Münchner Kammerspiele and the Maxim Gorki Theater (Germany).
Shamanistic Songs/The Quest, a Shaman-Punk performance inspired by the famous poem The Conference of the Birds by Farid ud-Din Attar, is his first show at the National Theater of Cluj.
Ramona Tripa: What drew you to The Conference of the Birds? Why a performance inspired by this particular text?
Çağlar Yiğitoğulları: The Iranian poem "The Conference of the Birds" brings many layers and aspects of life together into one beautiful story. The philosophy behind the story fits perfectly with any kind of existential or spiritual question which has defined our Shamanic path and sound.
The story of the poem also deals with that constant need of humanity to seek out or wait for our heroes to turn our world into a better place again. The story ends with the idea and ideology that the leader we seek is in us. No need to look for them on the outside. During these times of war, in the post-Corona age, I think it is important to remember and argue about such things with the audience members.
R.T.: The process of the making of this performance has been quite a special one. Tell us about your creative method and working with the actors from the Cluj-Napoca National Theatre.
Ç.Y: My creation method demands full openness and equality in every sphere. Likewise, artistic risks are taken on an equal footing by every member involved in the production.
However, in my work, the idea of collaboration is somewhat a bit complicated, as the material I bring to the stage is mostly extreme. That is why when I direct or make choreography I always have the urge to get on the stage as a performer too, to encourage, even provoke the performers, and bring them to the level that I would love them to reach. Here, with the artists of the Cluj-Napoca National Theatre, it has been such an easy and perfectly harmonious type of collaboration. Emotionally, artistically, intellectually they were fully open and ready to do it!
The method I propose is a wide-range one, bringing diverse artistic elements together, and in the end turning everything into an anti-Theater event. But from this place, you can also create perfect method actors on a wider scale. It is a complex, mind-expanding topic, and a long discussion for another time.
R.T.: How has your experience as a performer informed the way that you direct?
Ç.Y: If there are no active, productive minds and bodies during the process of creation, you'll end up with no production at all. Actually, this is exactly what I would like to encourage the audience to aim for while they are watching my work: that point where their minds and emotions are also active and productive.
R.T.: You've used the term "Shaman-Punk" to describe this performance. What does "Shaman-Punk" mean to you and how has it shaped this performance?
Ç.Y: Shaman-Punk is the term that I created to define my work, but it is also what best defines my identity. I have Shaman roots on my father's side and I have always lived in an environment where the Punk subculture background is essential. I have never regarded Punk as an accessory or a fashion trend. In the case of this performance, Shamanism dominates the sound, texture and attitude of the performance. Punk is the ideology of my work, but it is a very subtle, almost hidden dramaturgical concept. You will hear the influence of Punk only at the end, which is also the moment perfectly rounded off by the text to create the ideology of the performance. Please let me take my freedom here to openly use the term "ideology", as I hope we can all agree that everything in life has an ideology behind it. Even saying "we want no ideology here" creates an ideology which I can oppose to. As I mentioned above, the story ends with the understanding that we need no leaders, no heroes, since we are the leaders of our lives. That is very Punk to me.
The performance is structured into 8 songs for 8 performers, who all have their own individual moment to express themselves within the story they are telling as a group. Those individual moments are also informed by the idea and ideology of DIY (do it yourself). Each performer selects and brings on the stage the smallest elements they need to express themselves. At this point, let me remind you of that slogan of the Punks which said: "even you know 3 chords to play their instrument, occupy the stage and express yourself". That is the way I transfer and use the terms of Shamanism and Punk together as the key-concept and trigger of my work in general.
R.T.: The body plays a central role in this production, it is a meaning-bearing body. What is your view on the body as a tool for making art?
Ç.Y: As an artist who is in voluntary exile, in my life, hence in my work, I am regularly dealing with limits. The "unlimited-limited" concept of the body amazes and scares me. It is a very existential hurdle, which finds its manifestation in human anatomy. The body is a moving geography.
In our performance here also, the body is the tool - with every emotion, idea, liquid in it, carrying us to that level of madness and ecstasy where we find the freedom of expression as artists who hold the role of the Shaman nowadays.
R.T.: You are one of those artists who push the boundaries of performance art. What are the boundaries that The Quest explores and what has been the biggest challenge the team has faced on this journey?
Ç.Y: The heaviness of existence as a human being living in and feeling responsible for today's world. I think that can be the concept of a lifetime, as well as a struggle, for an artist to find their motivation to create.
R.T.: Music is essential to The Quest. How did you approach the process of composing for the performance?
Ç.Y: Nothing had been composed, but everything was improvised by the performers during the rehearsal process. That makes the work even more precious, since everyone found or brought their own voice in(to) it. Sometimes it resonates with a Shaman drum, sometimes with a trumpet or guitar, and continually with the "vocals" of human anatomy. For every musical fragment or song we have, I had created the vocal part or melody beforehand, but everything was then transformed and developed by the performers. We have no single document to leave behind for the compositions. Only the performers have them in their minds and hearts. That is precious.
R.T.: What would you hope the audience will be thinking about when they leave?
Ç.Y: I believe that the curtain quality of the performance will make the audience enjoy what they hear and see. However, our concept, with every emotional and physical obstacle we bring forth, the transformation of the performers - which will happen live every time, again and again, in front of the audience - will add another unique and unexpected quality, which will encourage the audience to think about what lies beyond.
Note: The interview has been edited for clarity.
CONTACT THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF CLUJ-NAPOCA P-ţa Ştefan cel Mare nr. 20 Cluj-Napoca, 400192 Romania