Majuli : The Story of the Island and its People

Shilpika Bordoloi’s production ‘Majuli’ brings to fore the story of the island and its people. Born in Jorhat in Assam, Shilpika Bordoloi is trained in Manipuri and Bharatanatyam. The visiting lecturer at the National School of Drama recently received the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar of Sangeet Natak Akademi for the year 2015 for her contribution in Contemporary Dance at Guwahati. During the award ceremony, her production ‘Majuli’ was presented in Pragjyoti ITA Centre for Performing Arts.

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The river Brahmaputra, landscape of Majuli and the social, cultural and spiritual life of the people in Majuli form the basis for this contemporary solo work. “This production is an earnest effort to share the story of Majuli through a personal vocabulary of movement, dance and theatre”, said Bordoloi.

“Structurally the performance starts at any point, like on an island, to ultimately open up to a huge dimension in space. The performer travels like the river water, with different qualities and evokes many journeys within the space of visits to Majuli. 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’”, Bordoloi said.

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The piece is a celebration of the spirit of Majuli and the flow of the Brahmaputra, which weave together to signify the intricate bond of people with their land and their resilient and adaptive relationship with the river.

“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”, she said. Bordoloi believes that these experiences and stories resonate well beyond Majuli and the mighty Brahmaputra.

“The sheer mindfulness of the river and its cycle is now undergoing rapid changes through the plans of massive hydroelectric and related infrastructure projects. This can create and is creating a lot of conflict along the flows of the river and the people who live there. The cycle of the often quiet, often raging river has innumerable stories of resilience of people-river interactions, which convey about the winds of change and its need to be sustainable to the spirit of the people and the river”, the artiste said.

The music created in the production is from the instruments that are played by the Assamese, Deori and Mising communities of Majuli. The musicians at times become actors on stage creating sounds of Majuli. There are all together 31 instruments and three were new instruments, that got created in the process of research. Many of these instruments are indigenous and near extinction.

The elements of costume, light along with sound make it a strong physical theatre or contemporary dance performance, each playing its part to make it a wholesome experience. “The island has fascinated me from my early childhood days through frequent boat rides that I shared with my father”, the artiste revealed while speaking about her inspiration.

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Majuli and its unique relationship with the people living on the island, has kindled her imagination to explore the seemingly normal human tendency to shift or settle in safer abodes. “The Brahmaputra river embraces Majuli in its midst, and so does Majuli to its people, like a mother to a child”, she said.

The production and this process has brought together her historical and geographical identity. “My process is about generating the content from within, without making any pre-conceived shape of the body. Within ‘Majuli’, there are portions where I have used traditional form and folk but in sync. My form is a sync of modernity and traditional, a sync of theatre and dance, a symbiotic synthesis”, she added.

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