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An experiential theatre festival

The festival was an experiment for site-specific performances – the venue in Majuli is next to the river Luit – that intend to encourage performers and members of the audience to look beyond the proscenium and amphitheatre.

TAPATI CHOWDURIE | New Delhi |

Brought up in Jorhat, Assam, Shilpika Bordoloi’s initiation to dance started at the age of three, learning Manipuri dance under Guru Rathindra Sinha, later under the maestro Darshana Jhaveri.

Bharatanatyam exponent Leela Samson taught her Bharatanatyam of the Kalakshetra Bani. Her versatility saw her taking to Martial Arts and she is trained in Chi-Gong, Martial Arts (Chinese and Korean) including Tai-Ji-Quan under Sensei Rashid Ansari along with being involved in the Voice and Theatre Movement.

With a master’s degree in English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi, she is much travelled along the river Brahmaputra. Her well researched multi-media project Katha Yatra has culminated in the creation of the physical theatre piece Majuli which has been showcased globally.

A Bismillah Khan awardee for contemporary/experimental dance, Shilpika is the founder member of Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation.

Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation celebrated Do: Nyi-Po: Lo Majuli Theatre Festival in the picturesque watery idyll perched on the Brahmaputra river in Majuli, Assam, which nurtures a distinctive meld of indigenous people and a natural ecosystem. Yet every monsoon, it manages to grab a little attention only as a ‘disappearing island’. Majuli is a melting pot of cultural relics p a rticularly, in terms of performing and movement arts.

Although sparsely observed by the mainstream, the island is a hub of NeoVaishnavite culture, with Bhaona (theatrical performance based on mythological stories); Mukha Bhaona (mask theatre); Onkiya Naat (one-act drama) and Putola Nas (puppet theatre).

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This theatre festival in Majuli was indeed experiential, both in the performances and master-classes. A host of artistes took centre stage at the Do: Nyi Po: Lo Majuli Theatre Festival 2022. The terms ‘do:nyi’ and ‘po:lo’ translate to ‘sun’ and ‘moon’. The festival narrated stories of human psyche and the natural environment through the arts.

The aim of Shilpika’s project was to decentralise urban sites, and make theatre festivals more participatory, collaborative, sustainable and community-based. The Majuli Theatre Festival- took place at Ayang Okum, Borun Chitadar Chuk, in Majuli.

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 An array of performances, masterclasses, workshops and discussions took place featuring Dr Hem Chandra Goswami (from Sukumar Kala Peeth, Majuli); Surjit Singh Nongmeikapam (from Nachom Arts Foundation, Manipur), Andres Fagiolino and Betina Dominguez (from Amares Teatro, Uruguay), Yuki Ellias (from Dur Se Brothers, Mumbai), Anupam Saikia (from Assam), BA Theatre Group (from Assam) and Shilpika, among others. The event was supported by Assam Tourism and Mising Autonomous Council and was a residential initiative, where artistes came and stayed at the venue through the course of the event. They had a chance to meet other artistes, engage in conversations and foster cultural exchange.

The festival was an experiment for site-specific performances – the venue in Majuli is next to the river Luit – that intend to encourage performers and members of the audience to look beyond the proscenium and amphitheatre. The theme for the festival of 2022 is Body Wisdom with clowning, sitespecific installation performance, dance, performance art, folk theatre, physical theatre, mask performances and local dances and rituals being the focal points.

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 The central idea is to serve as a platform for discourse. Amares Teatro’s Andres Fagiolino and Betina Dominguez of Uruguay, who have extensive research backgrounds in The Art of the Clown and Theatricalization of unconventional spaces performed ‘Rio’-the story of a people without water, of a long journey, of a humanity that got lost. It was a clear invitation to reflect on the journey of unthinking human beings on this earth. A glimpse of ‘U Define’ by Imphalbased choreographer and performing artist Surjit Singh Nongmeikapam is a significant name. The Director expected the viewers to name and define the play. ‘The Hidden Corner’, a photographic performance by Anupam Saikia made little impact on the viewers as it was difficult to comprehend the exploration his visual art associated with body, action and movement which calls Performance Art or Art Performance.

‘Elephant in the Room’ by Yuki Ellias, a Dur Se Brothers production spoke about Ganesha who has been given a new head and is confused and lost in the forest. His encounter with Makadi the spider and Moork the poacher, a clumsy duo with their own agendas, and other preposterous characters and incidents were thrilling and totally entertaining at every turn. Mukha Abhinaya by team Kalapith by Chamaguri Satra Majuli was under the direction of Dr. Hemchandra Goswami, who is the most well-known mask maker of the country. He belongs to a Vaishnavite monastery of Assam.

Shilppika , who is interested in the ‘wisdom of the body’, has always focussed on works that carry traces of her own identity, roots and cultural leanings be it the meandering nature of the Brahmaputra or the discernment of Shattriya Nritya. Shilpika is the playwright, lead performer and director of A Human Endeavour, which she had performed as a part of NSD’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2020. The piece, staged at the festival, drew inspiration from British author Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, which Shilpika had read as a student of English literature in college.

The 1831 prose piece was scripted into a drama. The narrative of A Human Endeavour is about any woman who has lived a nightmare. This play is not just an embodiment of the original text, but a piece of art presented as a response to the world’s current socio-political environment. Here the human body serves as a medium both in motion and stillness that holds a torch on the natural connection between our emotion and action. Looking back at the catastrophic happenings of the near past – before, during and after the pandemic and the destruction of our own ecosystem – Shilpika reflected on the actions of the pathbreaking actions of those who could not foresee the results that would follow their creation. The play pointed out the nightmare that would drown humanity.

To researcher-doctor-scientist Victor Frankenstein the bigger picture remained elusive. Like him, in Shilpika’s play, the catastrophe of what is to befall remains hidden to the blind politician, businessman or spiritual leader, who chooses not to bear the consequences of his own actions. The drama unfolded the different layers of a night where dreams and imagination, wisdom and strength collide for space. Through movements, sound and sight the dance-theatre shows the power of hope that can come to our aid provided there is effort. It was a group production. It included actors Alonkrita Priyadarshini, Vanshita Somani, Ahiran Lahon, Aditya Kumar Borah, Abhigyan Kalita, Mayukh Jyoti Saikia and Shilppika. Ronal Hussain deserves credit for the light design, while Paramananda Kakoty Borbayan was incharge of the traditional music and Sattriya dance. Arnab Bashistha made the music. Promud Baruahs translation of the prose piece in Assamese is praiseworthy. Apart from writing and directing the play, Shilpika is also the brain behind its choreography and costume.

A Human Endeavour is basically a non-verbal piece, with a bit of Assamese and English. Director Anup Hazarika’s team performed Habib Tanvir’s Chhattisgarhi play Charandas Chor, originally from a Rajasthani folk tale, and about an innovative thief, was presented with NagaraNaam and other folk musical forms of Assam. It was a very well appreciated drama. The Noi Lohor Band of Jorhat was amazing. A group of eight kids led by Mukunda Madhav Borah, played 30 different instruments for the propagation of folk instruments and tunes of Assamese culture. Seeing Gumrag dance – the traditional dance of the Mising tribe performed during Ali-AyeLeegang and Mising Bihu, which has rightfully claimed its place from the paddy fields to the proscenium stage – was a treat.