Grant Period: Over six months
This grant supports Guwahati-based dancer/choreographer, Shilpika Bordoloi, to create a physical theatre performance piece based on the social, cultural, and spiritual life on the river island Majuli in Assam. Located in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, it is the world’s largest freshwater mid-river delta system. Culturally, Majuli has been at the centre of Assamese civilisation. The satras or the Vaishnava monasteries located here are a major component of Assam’s socio-cultural fabric, having patronised a host of cultural and artistic practices including wooden carvings, paintings, bamboo and cane crafts, music, dance, and mask-making. This rich culture has in many ways shaped itself around the vicissitudes of the river. While constant floods and soil erosion have already been major threats to the existence of the island, the situation is further acerbated by plans for a major hydro-electric project in the region that will perhaps submerge Majuli entirely.
Shilpika’s association with Majuli and the Brahmaputra goes back to her childhood when she made frequent boat journeys to the island with her father. Katha Yatra is her larger project that aims to artistically respond to the Brahmaputra and the understandings of art, culture, identity, and development of communities living along its banks through field-based research, video, photography, and performance. It is under Katha Yatra that Shilpika’s current project is conceived. Until a few years ago, Shilpika performed regularly with her teacher Leela Samson in Delhi, before moving to Guwahati. Subsequently, she went on to study with Daksha Sheth in Kerala, learnt Manipuri from the Jhaveri sisters, and also trained in the martial arts, constantly seeking her own movement vocabulary. Being critical of the way in which contemporary dance forms in India have been largely drawn from western techniques, Shilpika believes that having never trained in any of the western dance forms allows her to generate content from within.
Shilpika envisions the performance as a physical theatre piece that represents the true spirit of Majuli and the Brahmaputra. Tentatively titled, ‘Majuli’, the work is partly about the social, cultural, and spiritual life of the many communities living in Majuli and partly about the many qualities of the river/water. The elements of movement, voice, light, costume, and set design will blend together to evoke a sense of the island. Shilpika has been working with movement dramaturge, Michel Casanovas, towards gaining fresh perspectives on understanding the body. The musicians, Mukund Madhav Bora and Anant Bora, are skilled folk artists from Jorhat. The soundscape is being created entirely with traditional Assamese folk instruments in an attempt to revive them, as well as enhance the performance. The costume designed by Vivan Sundaram and video images by Kamal Musale will be used in the performance. ‘Majuli’ is scheduled to premiere at the Sri Ram Centre in Delhi in February 2014.