Majuli An island, some monks, and dance...
July 2008: first western tour of the Monk Dancers of Majuli.
In France: Saint-Florent-Le-Vieil, Abbaye de Sylvanès, Uzès, Issoire, and Le Puy-en-Velay. In Portugal: Evora.
90 hypnotic minutes orchestrated from beginning to end in which song, music, dance and theatre intertwine with the art of detail. Following a purely sacred opening, the rhythmic and visual progression builds-up softly until the vibrant ballet of the « tals » (cymbals) offering a exulting finale full of light:
- Raga Mahur: in the dimmed light, short and poignant incantation a capella, while 2 monks slowly place on the front of the stage a relic portico topped by 3 flames, symbol of the door of knowledge that leads to wisdom.
- Gayan Bayan (10 artists): prelude to the entire performance. Invocation, mixing 6 « khol » (drum) and 4 Tal (cymbals) players. The dancers dressed in white dance, holding their drums. Aerial choreography consisting of complex steps and of « mudras » (positioning of the hands) in harmony with the rhythm of the percussions. These are instants where the artist, the instrument and the cosmos commune together.
- Dasavatar (5 dancers & 5 musicians): choreographed recital of 10 incarnations of Krishna/Vishnu : the fish, the turtle, the boar, the man-lion, the midget, Râma with the axe, Sri Râma, Holiram (Krishna), Balarâma (Bouddha), and Kalki.
- Krishna and the happy chosen one (2 dancers & 5 musicians): this duo adapted from a romantic scene between Krishna and Radha his preferred shepherd girl, symbolises the masculine and feminine energy that attracts, complements and repulses each other. It expresses the emotional succession that flows through the human being (the feminine role is interpreted by a monk).
- Sita Haran, the kidnapping of Sita (6 actors & 5 musicians): danced play, taken from Ramayana. Rama, incarnation of Vishnu, inheritor of the solar dynasty, he is the husband of the beautiful Sita and brother of the loyal Lakshmana. A royal intrigue pushed this trio to exile themselves to the forest. But the demon Ravana, who dreams only of kidnapping Sita, will use different strategies to try to take her away while under the watchful surveillance of the two men...
- Sutradhari (1 dancer & 5 musicians): Sutradhari is the master of ceremonies and storyteller of the ankiya bhaona (play). The dancer interprets different roles which confront one another, such as Nri Sinha Lila (the lion-man), Prahlad (the disciple of Krishna) and Hiranya Kasipu (the father of the latter). He expresses the fear, the anger, the vengeance and all that agitates the human soul.
- Bortal Nach (8 dancers & 4 musicians): the « bortals » are cymbals used for ceremonies in the temples (namghar). Used as choreographic accessories, they become the twirling stars in this energetic dance which is an offering of love & energy to the public.
The Monk Dancers of Majuli grew up at Satra in Uttar Kamalabari. Farmers and professional artists, they are between 18 and 36 years old. Since their childhood, dance has been for them an integral part of their devotion to Krishna.
Musicians: Bhaben Kakoti Bayan (khol), Upen Gayan (song), Gobinda Kalita Bayan (percussions), Madhava Kalita (flute);
Dancers: Baburam Saikia Bayan, Dulal Saikia Bayan, Jadumoni Bayan, Mokunda Saikia Bayan, Naren Barua, Niranjan Saikia, Serbananda Gayan;
Dancer , choreographer and artistic director: Bhabananda H. Barbayan:
- Born in 1976, he entered the monastery at the age of 4. He started to dance as of 1983.
- Named Adhyapak of Uttar Kamalabari Satra in 1993.
- Founder in 2003 of the Majuli Sattriya Dance Academy, Assam.
- Director since 2008 of the cultural centre Srimanta Sankaradeva Bhawan. He created in Delhi the first school of Sattriya dance in the capital.
- For the past 15 years, he produced the troupe in the most prestigious stages of India and has facilitated many seminars.
- Author of the first illustrated manual for the apprenticeship of Sattriya, he finished his thesis on the forms of Sattriya dance at Rabindra Bharati University in Calcutta.