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Dancers in Flight

A Sufi poet’s words merge with our stories of migration



In residence March 19-25, choreographer Wendy Jehlen gathers an international ensemble of artists at Jacob’s Pillow to create The Conference of the Birds.

Friends and professors read poetry aloud to her and translated it on the wing. As a student at Brown and as a dancer in Cambridge, Wendy Jehlen heard Sufi expressions of longing and wonder. She has loved Persian language and verse since her college years; this spring she is translating them into movement.

As a choreographer, Jehlen travels the world, working with dancers and musicians from many traditions. In March, she will gather an international ensemble of artists at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in one of the new year-round residency programs to create a new work, The Conference of the Birds.

Jehlen grew up in a world of South Indian classical dance and has studied Persian poetry and Sufism, religion and performance. In her new work, she has shaped the dance around a Persian epic poem that follows a migration—and around the stories of people who have travelled from many countries to find new homes.

In Pittsfield last fall, she held a storytelling workshop with local people who have come from countries around the world. They responded, she says, with raw emotion. Narratives have emerged from her workshops—people are talking, drawing, writing poetry about their lives. Here, in Pittsfield, people were shaken by a need for touch. And the workshop centers on touch. She designed it around an exercise she has created in working with people who are blind and deaf, to let them experience dance directly—to feel someone dance, and then to move with them. In the Berkshires, the experience of moving close to someone, sharing physical contact, brought out deep feeling.

Many people here had left family behind in their travels—some left everyone they knew. Jehlen talked with two young men who reached this country in their late teens, all alone. Dancing gave them sense of connection, something missing in their lives.

That connection is central in her new work, Jehlen says. The poem, The Conference of the Birds, by Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar, tells the story of a flock who set out on a quest to find a mythical being called the Simurgh. They go on an intense journey, and it brings them together, as though they become one being. 

They learn to let go of—the word in Arabic is nafs. She translates it as “the thing that makes you see yourself as separate from other people and from God.” The birds need to let go of isolation, to come close, as close as a shared soul. 

Jehlen has wanted to work with this poem for years. As a choreographer and director of Anikaya Dance Theater, based in Somerville, she has collaborated with artists in many countries. The Conference of the Birds will bring together Luciane Ramos Silva from Brazil; Marcel Gbeffa from Benin; Mohammed “Shika” Yousry from Nubia, southern Egypt; Kae Ishimoto from Japan; Danang Pamungkas from Indonesia; Tara Murphy from the U.S.; Sarveshan Gangen from India and South Africa; and Yasin Anar from Turkey. Jehlen has traveled to work with several of them in their own countries, but they will come together for the first time at Jacob’s Pillow, March 19 to 25, 2018 to finish the work. It will premiere at the Boston Center for the Arts on April 5,  and Jehlen expects more performances will follow.

Her choreography and her partnerships, like the poem, bring creative souls together to become one. They map the intimacy of a human community. “The poem is a metaphor for people traveling together,” Jehlen says, “and they find that the divine presence they have been looking for is a combination of all of them. That’s true and very necessary now to remember. Islamophobia is creeping out of the cage it’s been in, and this is a message coming out of Islam, a very beautiful message, and it is important now.”

It is important, she says, to give a deeper perspective on Islam as a faith and a culture. It is and has been a rich source of music, theater and art, and of tolerance and humanity. In Persian culture, poetry is a daily pleasure, she says. Every home has a collection of the poems of Hafiz, and no one will ever rest another book on top of it; they honor it as they honor the Quran.

Jehlen will honor that soul of poetry, philosophy and music in her work. Alongside Shaw Pong Liu, the lead composer based in Boston, and Parisian composer Eric Raynaud (Fraction), Iranian composer Shahou Andalibi, who lives in Canada, will compose a section inspired by the ceremony of the whirling dervishes. They circle without turning, walking a circular path and removing their outer clothing to reveal white robes. They wear tall hats to symbolize the grave, and as they walk they turn and pause and move into groups.

Andalibi also will perform on the Iranian reed flute, the neh or ney. Rumi writes about the sound of it, Jehlen says. It becomes the lead instrument in the dervish ceremony, and in poetry it represents the yearning of the lover for the beloved, as the reed lifts its voice in longing for the reed bed where it was cut. 

Jehlen’s dancers will celebrate the ceremony as a coming together, a coming home. And they will perform it as birds in flight. Dance often interprets birds, she says, but rarely in the air. She has studied the movements of flight, the way the wings lift and the body shifts, and she respects the strength it takes. Her dancers will fly.

 

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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
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We invite families to drop-in and enjoy interactive pop-up activity stations, gallery games, and art projects around the KMA.  Get inspired by Outrageous Ornament: Extreme Jewelry in the 21st...

Cost: Member price: Free Non-Member price: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Katonah Museum
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
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Calling all fans of Scottish food and Diana Galbaldon’s Outlander series. Don your tartan, make like Jamie’s clan motto and be ready! You’re invited to an amazing Outlander...

Cost: 100.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
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Friday, Jan. 25 Wilton Library Mini Golf Tourney for Adults, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. The kids had so much fun at last year’s Mini Golf fundraiser, that Wilton Library is holding one for adults only...

Cost: $50 and up

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
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Original members of the Billy Joel Band featuring Liberty DeVitto on drums, Richie Cannata on saxophone and Russell Javors on rhythm guitar. The band recorded and toured extensively with Billy Joel...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Telephone: (203) 438-5795
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Born from humble beginnings in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, CT The Alpaca Gnomes cut their teeth in the neighborhood bar scene by playing marathon shows filled with originals and a wide...

Cost: $15.00 - $20.00

Where:
Wall Street Theater
71 Wall Street
Norwalk, CT  06850
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Sponsor: Jeanne Moore
Telephone: (203) 831-5004
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
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Are you a lifelong with a passion for sharing history? Find out about becoming a Museum Docent! Docents are trained volunteer educators who present guided tours and other education programs to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Bring the baby and enjoy a lively conversation inspired by the art on view. Enjoy light snacks while socializing with newly-made friends. Crying babies welcome and activities provided for older...

Cost: Member price: Free Non-Member price with Museum admission: Free

Where:
Katonah Museum of Art
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
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Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Blending nature and spirituality, Connecticut artist Lori Barker explores the rhythms of life in a new collection of mixed media works on display at the Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
Washington, CT  06793
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Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

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Winter Guided Hike @ Woodcock Nature Center Saturday January 26th, 10-11:30am, FREE ​ Join Mr. Sam for a hike where we'll investigate whats going on in nature in the winter season and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Woodcock Nature Center
56 Deer Run Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Woodcock Nature Center
Telephone: (203) 762-7280
Contact Name: Sam Nunes
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The Bruce Museum is organizing an exhibition of small artworks created entirely by the public for the public. We invite art lovers of all ages, interests, and abilities to submit a depiction of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
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Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
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Saturday, Jan. 26 Mini Golf Family Day in the Stacks at Wilton Library, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Wilton Library will hold its 2nd mini golf fundraising event. There will be food (each paid admission will...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
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  Touchon transforms verbal language into handsome geometric compilations, to reveal the beauty and musicality of language characterized by warmly colored shapes, interlocking irregular grids and...

Cost: free

Where:
Canfin Gallery
39 Main Street
Tarrytown, NY  10591
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Sponsor: Canfin Gallery
Telephone: 914-332-4554
Contact Name: Jean-Claude Canfin
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Zachary Zaitzeff is a painter living in the Hudson Valley who has incorporated his extensive world travel, including his 2011 summit of Mount Everest, into his artwork. Zachary spent 2018 studying...

Cost: free

Where:
RT Facts Gallery
8 Old Barns Rd
Kent, CT  06757
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Sponsor: RT Facts
Telephone: 860-927-1700
Contact Name: Natalie Randall
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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

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Saturday, January 26th from 1:00 - 2:00 PM, Ages 4+ Attend for groovy crafts, snacks, games, and more in celebration of the Pete the Cat book series. This event is free and no registration is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
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Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
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Hudson Chorale, the area’s largest mixed voice chorus, is poised to please.  The group will begin its 2019 season with two matinee concerts on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm and Sunday,...

Cost: Advance Sale-$25; Door-$30; Students-$10.

Where:
The Chapel at Maryknoll
55 Ryder Rd
Ossining, NY  10562
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Sponsor: Hudson Chorale
Telephone: 1-800-838-3006
Contact Name: Anne Norum
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Join us for a very special evening of music from these four accomplished singer songwriters: David Ray, Mike Latini, Dave Goldenberg, George Mallas.  

Cost: 20.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
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Join us for another incredible evening of music featuring four local singer songwriters performing original music! Doors open at 7pm in New Morning’s handicapped accessible Community Room on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
New Morning Market
129 Main St North
Woodbury, CT  06798
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Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
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