Monday, 3 July 2017

Majuli Dramaturgy: Shilpika Bordoloi @ Edfringe 2017


Shilpika Bordoloi

11 Aug | 18.00 | £10.00 (£8.00) | 50 mins

12 – 20 Aug (Not Mondays) | 18.00 | £12.00 (£10.00)

50 mins

Dance Base (Venue 22)
14–16 Grassmarket, Edinburgh
0131 225 5525 | | @dancebase

Guwahati-based dancer and choreographer Shilpika Bordoloi has created a physical theatre performance piece based on the social, cultural and spiritual life of the river island Majuli.

Part of India@UK Year of Culture 2017, Shilpika Bordoloi presents Majuli; a performance based on the stunning and picturesque island in Assam’s mighty Brahmaputra river, which is also the world’s biggest river island. Located in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, Majuli is the world’s largest freshwater mid-river delta system, and has been the cultural heart of the Assamese civilisation.

                        What was the inspiration for this performance?
The island of Majuli, amid the mighty Brahmaputra in Assam, India, has fascinated me from my early childhood days, through frequent boat rides that I shared with my father, who used to travel to the island for work.

This is the world’s biggest river island and gets flooded every year during the summer; people are uprooted and quaintly re-settle themselves as the season changes. Constant floods and soil erosion on the banks are the major threats to the existence of Majuli.

This unique relationship of a land with water, an interaction of people and nature form the basis of my work, my inspiration.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
I hope so. This is the first time I will be performing in UK.

This show is much more than my artistic ambition. This project is part of a research-oriented process to bring together artists, of creating a body of knowledge of the hopes, aspirations, culture, identity of the people inhabiting the bank of the river Brahmaputra.

The sync of traditional knowledge systems and
practices with modernity has been the challenge that has engulfed the entire world in many ways, and this piece is an attempt towards sharing stories of adaptability, striking a balance between traditional and modern knowledge. These experiences and stories resonate well beyond Majuli and the mighty Brahmaputra of India.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I was learning Indian Classical dance from a very early age. Much later I wanted to find other ways of expressing, sharing my stories... I got drawn to other forms including Martial-Arts and Theatre.
I see dance and movement as a way of life, wherein the journey of experimentation, discovery unfolds through the emotive medium of the body. I am engaged in a research-oriented process of the body where the process of movement is deep and intuitive in creativity. Making performance was just an organic part of the journey so far.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Sometimes when one views a place, the perception or the way one views it, is a coming together of so many things… memories, conditioning, dreams, notions etc.

When was the first time I saw the river? I asked myself this question as I started my work in New Delhi in September 2012. I realised that I had accepted the Brahmaputra as my own, as a space that I had heard and knew. As a kid, every time I crossed the river I felt like I owned it; in retrospect perhaps, it owned me. The vastness of it, the quietness and all consuming, unifying nature was never a question in my mind since it was home — a space that brought with it comfort, a warm feeling of wholesomeness, and content.

      I thought of how perhaps I could blame photography for being the culprit that took away my actual or real memories of my first meeting with this river. I grew up in Jorhat, a town close to the Brahmaputra, and my early memories are a product of the photos of a picnic on its banks — a journey with a group of uncles, aunts, food, and the wind trying to take my hat away as I sat on the roof of our boat. I also danced my first creative dances to the songs of Bhupen Hazarika telling me about the massive armed river or the angst-ridden voice of the Luit.  I came up with motifs of my impressions of Majuli and the river as I began the process of improvisation that led to this production you are seeing today.

I went back to Majuli during the course of this process many times. My collaborators joined me many times.

In the studio later I had to create these visuals that I was seeing. My process is about generating the content from within, without being restricted by any pre-conceived notion of the shape of the body. In this dance I embody the many emotions that I have experienced in my trips to Majuli, and portray my intimate relationship with the island through the medium of my body. As I become man, woman, monk, river, land, lotus, demon, god during this performance, I attempt to portray the shifting terrain of imageries that have inspired me. Within the piece of ‘Majuli’, there are places where I have used traditional form and folk but that is the sync that is my form, a sync of Modernity and Traditional, a sync of Theatre and Dance.

5. Does the show fit with your usual productions?
During the process of making Majuli, I re-located to Assam from New Delhi.  The previous works were experiments created in the studio in New Delhi. This work was part documentation and part re-imagination of the ways in which a river becomes so mingled with the identity of a culture.

Let me share with you some moments/processes that is very different in this production to earlier works:
1) Every time I have lived in Majuli the soundscape around me has created pauses for my mind to wander. Sitting by the river in the evening and hearing the far away sound of naam (devotional singing) or the unfettered sound of someone singing aloud while maybe working in the field, or even just sitting in the field, sounds of laughter and sometimes dialogues of mythological plays spoken aloud inspired me. The soundscape of this production weaves together the Deori, the Mising and the Assamese communities of Majuli. It is a process that also brings together my historical and geographical identity, and allows me to present pieces of my intimate relation with the space over a period of time. The audience hears natural sounds, far away sounds and tunes, which then invoke sounds from my memories, like my father's dialogue as the evil Kansa from the mythological performance of Raaslila).

In our initial attempts to create 'Majuli,' we used already available instruments to create the sounds that were to accompany the narrative. But soon, we realised that we would need to create certain sounds for the drama. We made three new instruments for this production; one is perfect for water, another for birds, and third for dramatic moments of the performance.

I also wanted to include as many extinct instruments as we could, and sourcing them has been a journey of its own. We have 32 instruments playing in the soundtrack. Unfortunately, many of these are now in states of disrepair, because they are made from natural material. So we are trying to re-make, re-source them. It is a continuous process of a struggle with dying practices such as these.

2) The seasons make us different people because we sense different things… one such favourite time was winter in Majuli. The fog enveloping us when I took a boat ride, not seeing much at first, but then beginning to see things that emerged slowly. One such foggy morning I was on a boat that was just tied to the bank... on a marshy wetland. I had vivid imaginations of all kinds of things. It struck me that this was a subconscious conversation with the landscape. I was looking at a few lotus flowers bloom and it reminded me of the story of Tejimola. Lakhinath Bezboruah’s Tejimola is a story of a little girl much loved by her father, but tormented and killed by her stepmother when her father is away. Her dead body thrown away comes to life as a tree, bird and finally as a lotus. I saw myself as a character in that story– her father or perhaps the boatman looking at the lotus flower, only to realise later that this was Tejimola herself in a new form. Perhaps the writer too was inspired by such moments spent alone with nature. I present this vignette as a tribute, an ode, to the artists, who like me, find themselves moved by nature.

6. What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will resonate in a deeper way and connect with the performer. It is not about technique of dance or theatre but a sharing. This experience of Majuli – the island.. the movement of the island, the music, the rhythms of the water, the hopes and aspirations of people inhabiting it - will hopefully be a wonderful evening of their lives. And they will engage with us, wish to experience it again and invite to places around them.

7. What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Majuli is a Physical Theatre performance. The audience with experience this story through the coming together of the movement, music, visuals, light, costumes and set design. Every medium is like a co-actor for the solo performer on stage.


The piece is a celebration of the spirit of Majuli and the flow of the Brahmaputra, which are woven together to signify the intricate bond of people with their land, and their resilient and adaptive relationship with the river told through an intense and evocative narrative of movement, dance and theatre.
Set to music created by instruments played by the Assamese, the Deori and the Mising communities of Majuli, Shilpika meanders in the rhythm of a river. This mesmeric solo is a celebration of the spirit of Majuli which stands peaceful and resilient in a land still torn by strife and conflict.

Talking about the work, Shilpika Bordoloi said:

“This production is an earnest effort to share the story of Majuli through a personal vocabulary of movement, dance and theatre. The island has fascinated me from my early childhood days through frequent boat rides that I shared with my father.

The performer travels like the river water; the rhythms, flirtation of the folk, the tragedy of one’s house getting washed away, the pleasures of rain, the spiritualism of the Satras, the structures, along with the imagery of a boat, create ‘Majuli’.”

·      About Shilpika Bordoloi

Shilpika Bordoloi has always been headed for a life of dance. From the age of three, she trained at the Indian classical dance form of Manipuri under Guru Rathindra Sinha and later on with Padmashree Darshana Jhaveri.

She went on to study the Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam under Padmashree Leela Samson and later worked in her company, Spandan. Shilpika has deliberately not trained in any of the Western dance forms allowing her to generate her own language.
·      Majuli is part of the India@UK Year of Culture 2017.
About Dance Base:

·      Dance Base is Scotland’s National Centre for Dance, situated in Edinburgh, and encourages and celebrates the potential for dance in everyone. Providing classes and workshops for the community, masterclasses and residencies for professional dancers, and an extensive programme of outreach work, Dance Base reaches out to inspire wellbeing and creativity, and cultivates a future for dance in local, national and international communities. Dance Base is a Regularly Funded Organisation (RFO).

·      Dance Base’s festival programme is curated by Artistic Director, Morag Deyes, MBE.

·      Dance Base’s Festival 2017 programme has 21 shows from 12 countries including Scotland, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Argentina, Canada, Egypt, India, Lebanon, Palestine, South Korea and Taiwan.

·      During the Festival, Dance Base supports performers and visiting companies in Edinburgh with a special programme of classes and workshops. It offers a high-class venue for professionals to rehearse, a space for their practice and low-cost studio hire.

·      Throughout the year, the £7m dance facility is visited over 50,000 times, for 130+ different classes and workshops. Alongside this, Dance Base’s professional programme exists to support and nurture professional dancers and their work at all levels through classes, workshops, and a programme of residencies.

·      Dance Base was recently accepted as a member of the European Dancehouse Network (EDN). With its acceptance as a full member of EDN, Dance Base is making history for dance in Scotland as it is the first Scottish dance house to be accepted to the network; opening opportunities for Scottish dance artists.

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