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BIRDS | a ceremony



✭ When? 16 - 19 June 8:00 pm

✭ Where? Archipel, Entrance @ BabelBühne: Lange Lobroekstraat 120, opposite nr 51, Antwerp

✭ FREE | Reserve your place now via our website or come by the evening itself!

✭ Language Dutch


When you have cremated your ego,

your bird spirit will take flight.

And the Holy Spirit itself will rush out,

arms wide in welcome.

(the Hoopoe in 'Conference of the Birds')

The Great Mystery, the Big Ocean, todo poderoso, the Beloved, the Almighty, el Creador, the Source, Allah, the Devine, God. In all languages and cultures there are words to name that great invisible world. Why look for something outside when you can find it within yourself?

A flock of birds set off in search of the chief bird Simorph. Their journey passes through seven valleys. The road is long and hard. Driven by fear of the unknown, one after the other fails. They long for unity, happiness and freedom but are constantly in conflict, most of all with themselves. In VOGELS, a ceremony, Rebecca Lenaerts goes on a tour with a group of ten kunstZetters. They are inspired by the sufi text 'Conference of the Birds' by the Persian poet Farid ad-Din Attar and go in search of the bird within themselves. Together they investigate a form of performance art beyond display and representation. The audience witnesses and at the same time participates in a ceremony that heralds a transformation.


CONCEPT AND EXECUTION : Rebecca Lenaerts in collaboration with Tijen Lawton and Francisco Chino Manzano

WITH Lara Groeneweg, Emmanuel Boakye, Evelien Van Jole, Yasir Hazim, Ester van Elewijck, Sim Heyrman, Celia Crahay, Marijke de Puydt, Roelie de Jaeger


PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT Nina Plantefève-Castryck


With the support of the City of Antwerp, Flemish Community, Rooftoptiger


We went behind the scenes to talk with the makers Rebecca Lenaerts & Tijen Lawton!

Can you describe 'BIRDS | a ceremony' in three words?

TL: Negotiating time and space through a physical landscape

RL: process - vulnerability - leadership

What attracted you to the sufi text 'The Conference of the Birds' by the Persian poet Farid ad-Din Attar? Why was he chosen as the main source of inspiration?

RL: In my view, we live in a society where belief in something bigger than the visible world has been lost. The result is a lingering sense of lack that needs to be compensated by all means. Gratitude, forgiveness, prayer, humility, faith, respect, compassion... It lost its meaning and is almost taboo. Yet we crave that lost connection to something bigger than ourselves. Attar's text takes the reader on a spiritual journey into oneself beyond the power of the ego. To be spiritual means to live in connection with all that exists, not only the visible but also the invisible world. By choosing this text as a starting point, I stand up for these lost values.

"Attar warns us not to dry up in our own puddle, but instead to persevere in our journey to the divine. The Pacific Ocean is eternal. She is patient. She waits for all of us. May we all reach its shores like drops pure water."

(Preface by Sholeh Wolpé in 'The Conference of the Birds')

What is your favorite text fragment or moment in the 'The Conference of the Birds' text? 

TL: I who am neither myself nor any other than myself have traveled beyond reason, good or evil thoughts. I have lost myself in myself.  The only cure is to be incurable.

RL: When we read the text together, we all agreed on the parable of the moths.  It is a story about surrender and becoming one. Of the many parables in the text, this is the only one left to share with the public. 

BIRDS is a creative collaboration; can you briefly describe the creative process?
TL: Observe, support and try to see the perspective of the others from an inner space that they themselves have not yet entered and lead them there and through without imposing. Painting and forming textures and temperature.

RL: For the first few months we concentrated on reading and discussing the text. I also introduced the performers to the practice of Butoh Dance. We worked on sensitivity and awareness to the space and the inner movement of the body and how to move with that information. Then we focused on materials and textures and how they can influence our movement and physicality. This evolved into making costumes. Important to the process was the ritual of the sharing circle around an altar that opened and closed our weekly time together.  I also encouraged the performers to keep a diary, to keep a record of their experiences, associations and write down visions during improvisations.  These highly personal writings were a profound input for the creation of a movement score.  The hidden comes to the surface and resonates through the movement.

BIRDS is described as 'a form of performance art beyond display and representation', what can the public expect? Why the subtitle 'a ceremony'?

TL: An invitation to make the viewer realize that the terrain beyond their conscious mind is largely closed to them, and that it is there where their deepest desire smolders.

RL: Performance art is ceremony.  In ancient and indigenous cultures, dance, storytelling and making music are associated with ceremonial events that serve the community to connect with oneself, each other and the greater unity. In ceremonies there is no separation between audience and performers.  The performers undergo a real time experience and the audience witnesses a process, a transformation. They are not passive spectators, but rather part of a shared experience.  That's what I research with BIRDS.  I defend the authenticity and vulnerability of that experience.

The location for the ceremony is unique. Why was this space chosen? Does such a location change your creative process and how you approach the ceremony?

TL: The space has no limits but consumes, gives and takes energy, allowing you to appear out of nowhere and to disappear into darkness again.  She allows both the performer and the spectator to disappear into a realm where the laws of time, space and probability do not apply. It gives you the choice to escape the constraints of time, space and probability.  The continuous evolution of the creative landscape in the living space from day to day, moment to moment, has inspired us and nourished our desire that it is a never-ending process.

RL: Indeed, the lead role goes to the space.  She has scent, temperature, texture, color, light change, weight.  I chose to work in and with a space that has no reference to the theatrical codes we know from theater halls.  Front and back are undefined.  We had to decide where the audience enters.  There is no classic audience-stage set-up.  Performers and audience share the same space. Also Franzisco's work with and in the space is profound.  For a month he has been shaping the space, almost to the point of becoming part of it. It is a space that is constantly in motion. We move with you.  She makes us move.

You met in 2017, in kunstZ. How would you describe your collaboration?

RL: In terms of artistic vision and work method Tijen and I follow each other blindly. She definitely has more experience in physically guiding performers and improving the physical quality of their movement. Let's say I roll out the carpet so she can take the performance to the next level. 

Is there a moment during the ceremony (without giving too much away) that really resonates with you personally? Why?
RL: I really like the moment when the birds present themselves and declare their intention for the journey ahead.  The vulnerability and courage of the performers is real.  The words they speak come from their hearts.


During 'BIRDS | a ceremony' you have worked with people from different backgrounds. Do you think this has had a profound impact on how the ceremony is made/perceived? How?

RL: The bird kingdom is so diverse.  It was important for me to bring this diversity to the forefront. Each performer, each bird, has their own trajectory. Yet they are not alone.  They are connected.  Regardless of cultural background, gender, nationality, we all come from the same spiritual place.  The human soul is genderless.

When we talk about birds we quickly associate with the topic of freedom. How is this topic interwoven in this creation? 

RL: The freedom Attar talks about in his text is not the freedom of doing what you want, whenever you feel like. That is not freedom but rather egocentrism. It excludes the importance of responsibility. Attar talks about the freedom of the human soul, not constricted by the physical reality of a body. For me, this points towards the cycle of life and death and what creation and dance are. It is the soul that moves, the body follows. A free soul is a soul that is not restricted by judgment, mind frames, preconceived ideas, drama and ego. There is a lot of freedom in this creation, for both the performers and the audience. The question is whether you allow yourself.

TL: Unfortunately liberation has been exclusively applied to liberation from outside forces. Freedom is the knowledge that you have a choice. To have or to be. Having what one needs to live, therefore ones sense of identity is not based on that having, it is rooted in human existence. Freedom is being interested, investigating. Being interested in the most basic, most challenging art of human life, the art of being. Freedom is knowledge of observation, to observe human nature and ask the question about human nature, about the interplay of nature and nurture mediated by the norms. Experience rather than acquisition.

The body is what allows us to perceive, and it is in this sense the subject of perception, while at the same time the body is a perceived object, even though it can only be imperfectly perceived by oneself. This distinction can be a starting point to describe the double aspect of human embodiment. Our embodiment is thus inherently twofold: it is lived as well as material subject as well as object, of experience. Precisely because we are never merely objects, but simultaneously living subjects - sensing, moving and experiencing - our materiality makes us open and vulnerable to the world. We are not passively located, affected, moved or moulded from the outside as if we were an indifferent object; but, we subjectively feel any external affect from the inside and thus have to somehow relate to it.

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