‘Shraddanjali’ and ‘Keibul Lamjao’ spoke of patriotism and conservation.
Dancers from the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy provided a whiff of the goings-on in the contemporary Manipuri dance scene at a presentation at The Music Academy Dance Festival. Traditionally, Manipuri has been tied with the ritualistic and cultural practices of the land. Classical styles such as the Radha-Krishna themed Raas Leela, the ritualistic Lai Haroba, the drumming Pung Cholom and the martial arts Thang Ta and Chhau form the basis for the new movement style that is used for contemporary productions such as ‘Shraddanjali’ and ‘Keibul Lamjao.’
‘Shraddanjali,’ based on Lai Haroba (female) and Thang Ta (male), paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi.
Against an etching of Gandhiji displayed in the background, the dancers enacted scenes such as Buddha’s assistant Ananda taking water from an untouchable, using the charka peacefully, making salt in defiance of the colonial rulers, burning foreign clothes in the Non-Cooperation Movement, et al.
Set to patriotic songs such as ‘Raghupathy Raghava Rajaram,’ ‘Vande Maataram’ and ‘Ekla Chalo Re,’ the presentation created an impact with simple visuals.
While the dancing style retained the lightness and delicacy in the movements, the dancers moved away from the traditional dead pan expressions to emote, even if mildly.
The hour-long ‘Keibul Lamjao,’ scripted by M.K. Binodini and choreographed by Th. Chaotombi Singh with music by M. Kulla Singh, told the story of the Sangai deer in the floating sanctuary of the same name, situated around the Loktak Lake in Manipur. The movement vocabulary here was based on Lai Haroba, Mayurbanj Chhau and Thang Ta.
The dancers dressed in beige costume (designed by G. Krishnachandra Sharma), had big ears (hind) or antlers (stag) affixed on to their head. Whether intended or not, the presentation made a powerful argument for conservation of endangered species. It enacted a fable about a chieftain who brought back a live hind for his lady love from a hunting expedition, only to find that she had been taken by the king and was a queen in the palace. Dejected he releases the hind, and warns people not to harm it. Till today killing a Sangai deer is forbidden to most in Manipur, especially the Meiteis.
With graceful leaps and pretty visuals, the production was well researched. Typical herd behaviour of mourning and comforting another after a death, licking the wounds of a fellow stag or hind to heal the injuries and the deer’s always-alert posture came through subtly. The music with instruments such as the pung drum, the pena stringed instrument, the dholak drum, flute and violin was aurally soothing.