Majuli is a gentle piece, beguiling in its simplicity in which the dancer and choreographer, Shilpikda Bordoloi evokes the world’s largest river island, Majuli in Assam’s Brahmaputra river and the islanders’ way of life, dependent on the river, its fertility and at the mercy of its destructive flooding when the villagers lose their homes and must learn to start again.
Movement, visual and sound effects unite in a pleasing whole
Dance and movement resulting from improvisation mingle with fragments of formal Indian dance and Bihu folk dance in fluid changing moods reflecting the river, accompanied by an atmospheric soundscape of deep water drops and a mesmerizing musical score, played on traditional instruments of the Assamese, the Deori and the Mising communities, and at times, a film backdrop showing shots of the river.
Shilpika is a skilled Indian classical dancer, having studied Manipuri from the age of three and later Bharatanatyam. In this piece she incorporates Sattriya classical dance and one can only wish there had been more of this in the show, since where this occurred it was superb. Her story-telling through mime such as agricultural activities and rowing on the river are strong and since she has purposely not trained in contemporary dance, these sections are refreshingly naïve and unsophisticated expressing her individuality.
A large stone head of Garuda, the eagle-beaked god, a medium of transport for Vishnu, faces the audience at the side of the stage and for Shilpika this connects with a parallel means of transport for her island: a boat. Some paper boat models also remind us of the hazardous life by the river. Many costume changes, white or yellow floating fabrics, also add to the pleasing visual effects and in particular, her opening costume of broad white trousers where blue/green stains rise from the hem, as if soaked by the river. The film shots of the river are particularly effective: the fast-flowing current mid-stream, choked by weeds nearer the river bank suggests the danger that always awaits and later the sun-splashes on the waves is a beautiful, peaceful end to the show.
Overall, movement, visual and sound effects unite in a pleasing whole but the evocative traditional music is to be singled out for its sheer beauty and range of emotional and acoustic effects.