report on ‘to’ : a workshop and two performances directed by surjit nongmeikapam

Culture Monks in association and with support from The Bengal Theosophical Society ; Alliance francaise du Bengale ; Buoyant Performing Arts ; Nachom Arts Foundation & Culture Monks recently organized a movement & mixed media workshop called “‘To” by Surjit Nongmeikapam as part of the Momentum Experimental Arts Festival 2018.

Supported by Iris Home Fragrances & Converge Mobile Stores.

The workshop was held at The Bengal Theosophical Society Hall from March 27 – 29, 2018.

The outcome of the workshop wasexhibited on the terrace of Alliance francaise du Bengale , Park Mansions, Park Street on March 29, 2018 & at The Renaissance Publishers , Bankim Chatterjee Street, Kolkata on March 30, 2018.

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About the Workshop

“To” is a mixed media workshop inspired by true stories that the choreographer’s grandmother narrated to him when he was a young boy in Manipur. His grandmother and her family were caught in the thick of the Battle of Imphal, the unsuccessful Japanese invasion of pre-independence India in 1944. The war took many lives – Japanese, British and Indian soldiers died, along with several innocent Kangleipak or Manipuri civilians.

His grandmother also recalled in this tapestry of loss the period of the Seven Years Devastation (1819 -1826), when Manipur was annexed by Burma. In both these periods, people died, went missing, and became prisoners of alien regimes. Families were uprooted and torn apart. Researching these battles, the choreographer looked at the letters exchanged by people, with their simple proclamations of hope and finality. “Goodbye for this life”, “I’m always with you”, many of the letters said. Channelling this spirit of reaching out to the loved ones lost to war, the choreographer acts as a messenger. He conveys their hopes and wishes to the people they have left behind. The choreographer’s actions acquire immediacy given the war and destruction that continues to separate people from their loved ones in several parts of the world, forcing them to make long journeys to alien lands for the opportunity to live without fear. In his metaphorical role as messenger, he reveals something fragile and beautiful about the human condition.

The Workshop & 2 Performances

“Time”, says Surjit , as we perceive it today was not he same in the days gone by, as his  grandmother had narrated of stories of the many to had to wait for a return letter for weeks, months , even years, to know the fate of loved ones, in the midst of the Battle of Imphal and Kohima as well as the Seven Years Devastation (1819 -1826), when Manipur was annexed by Burma.

The Battle of Imphal where the British army comprising of Indian soldiers managed to defeat the mighty Japanese army. It was battle which changed the course for both the imperial powers – Britain & Japan. The Indian soldiers once more under the stewardship of the British army claimed back Manipur from the Burmese in  The Seven Years Devastation.

In the midst of the tectonic shifts in geopolitics was caught the family. Tormented, forced to flee from one place to another, suffering the aftermath of the battle – famine, disease , death.

These are stories which Surjit Nongmeikapam still remembers vividly , as told by his grandmother. Surjit likes to silently embody this trauma of memory into his performance which he working on called ‘To’.

It is for the performers & the audience to feel the time which was moved agonizingly, filled with trauma and uncertainty, while negotiating the space and time which they inhabit in the present.

It was indeed serendipitous that he came to Kolkata while on his way to Delhi & Bangalore. We were lucky to be able to put together a workshop and a couple of performances which explored memory & trauma.

Everyone has their share of memories – passed on over generation. In this workshop the bricks or stones are that memory.

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Yet they are distant from the present (which is the body). We move in unison – the memory and us in the present,  maybe co – existing  in parallel universes.

The brick/ stone of memory is no longer an object but an extension of ourselves We tug and it resists, we can sever this link and the memory will lie unattended. Like 70 years after defeating Japan, India forgets Imphal,  we too can forget, shirk our responsibility to aesthetically represent and make sense of these memories. They will remain a dark & orphaned event of the past.

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For the link is but a thin string, resilient , as much as we would like it to be. It is our relation to the time- space – the conduit though which we interact with the memory.

But here we danced.

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Surjit Nongmeikapam took the participants through an intensely mediative journey of understanding their own body and its in relation to their memories & space.

Finally wrapping the strings around us, rotating like a slow spindle , in time , in imagination , we draw close to, it draws us close to it and we feel it , touch it and it dissolves and we dissolve in it.

Only then we emerge, at peace …..

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We traversed with the memory and the performance in three interesting and significant spaces.

The 3 days workshop was held at The Bengal Theosophical Society.

The first performance on the terrace of The Park Mansions, Park Street.

The final performance at the Renaissance Publishers ,Bankim Chatterjee Street, Kolkata.

All the three spaces are sites of significance for the history of Kolkata and indeed India.

The Bengal Theosophical Society was the meeting place of intellectual, freedom fighters and artists which shaped the India freedom movement and bought about great social reforms.

“The foundation stone of Park Mansions was laid in 1910, one year before the British announced that the imperial capital would be shifted to Delhi”. It is a heritage structure which stands at the intersection of the changing vicissitudes of the city , which would sink in its glory and prosperity.

Renaissance Publishers was founded by Manabendra Nath Roy & published several books of politics,society, philosophy which were revolutionary and shaped society’s consciousness.

The performers came from diverse background, each of them having their own journey, which are equally inspiring for the way they negotiating with some traumatic reality in order to be able to continue their journey as a performer & artist . The workshop forged a closer understanding of each other & provided a forum to come to term with their past  & to  express their desires

Debashree Mukherjee us a dance movement therapy practitioner, a theatre artist and a storyteller. She likes working with children and does a lot of work with underprivileged children.

Devdutta Banerjee is a visual artist & a theatre director/actor. He is also a performance artist.

Moumita Pal is a Spanish language teacher & a contemporary dancer.

Monalisa Dey is a classical singer & a thespian, seeking new forms to express herself

Bibhas Mukerjee has years of journey as an intimate theatre practiciner behind him.

Srija Kundu is a student and a contemporary dancer.

Soumyadeep Banerjee is a theatre actor & director.

Souvik Roy is a contemporary dancer.

Baismapayan Saha is a film maker, photographer, musician,  installation artists and a thespian.

Pradip Chaterjee is a sound artist, musician and a performance artist. he loves experimenting with form, language, medium and is a creates prolifically.

Participants in the workshop & Performance

Performers: Debashree Mukherjee. Devdutta Banerjee. Moumita Pal. Monalisa Dey. Bibhas Mukerjee. Srijaa Kundu. Soumyadeep Banerjee. Souvik Roy, Baisampayan Saha.

Music & Sound : Pradip Chatterjee.

Directed by : Surjit Nongmeikapam.

Produced by : Culture Monks

Supported by The Bengal Theosophical Society ; Alliance francaise du Bengale ; Buoyant Performing Arts ; Nachom Arts Foundation ; Irish Home Fragrances & Converge Mobile Store.

A short video of Surjit teaching at the workshop.

Video courtesy Sudipta Dawn

The Performance on the terrace of Park Mansions, Park Street, Kolkata

Here are some of the images from the performance which the workshop group did on the terrace of Park Mansions. facilitated by Alliance francaise du Bengale. This was on March 29, 2018.

Image courtesy Anirban Datta & Sudipta Dawn

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This is a sideshow of black & white images of the performance.

Image courtesy Sudipta Dawn

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And a short video of the performance .

Video courtesy Sudipta Dawn

Final Performance at Renaissance Publishers, Bankim Chatterjee Street

The final performance was held at The Renaissance Publishers, Bankim Chatterjee Street on March 30, 2018 .

Here is a video of the performance.

Video courtesy Anirban Datta

About Surjit Nongmeikapam

Surjit Nongmeikapam (Bonbon) was born in Manipur, which lies in the North East part of India. Bonbon studied B.A. Choreography and has worked with the Natya Stem Dance Kampni and Natya Maya, Bangalore as a contemporary dancer and traditional dancer. Bonbon is trained with kathak, Kalaripayattu, Manipuri dance, contemporary dance, and Thang-Ta a form of martialarts. He is also learning many other movement styles from different Gurus/Mentors till now.He also trained for 3 months course of Dance and Movement therapy from Kolkata Sanved 2010. He was also as a Dance therapist at H2H, Human to Humane, Imphal 2009-2013.

He has given workshops and awareness to several trauma victims in Manipur.

Now he is exploring as an interdisciplinary experimental with physical and emotional works on his pieces. Bonbon is still opening for performances and working with other choreographers and directors as a performer like before. He is also interested in working with visual artists and film makers as collaborators. Some of the best dance films which he has worked in are: “Black Pot and Movement” which was officially screened in 3 countries and nominated for best dance film, Switzerland -2013 (Theater Spektakel, Zurich), India -Experimenta 8th International Festival of Moving Image Art 2013 and Japan, Dance, and Film -International Dance Film Festival 2015. ‘Black Pot and Movement’ was supported by The Japan Foundation, New Delhi. It was a collaboration worked with Japanese dancer/choreographer Mayuka Ueno Gayer. “Underline” is another dance film which was screened in New Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Imphal and Poza Film (London). He collaborated with Swiss artist Frederic Lombard supported by Pro Helvetia, New Delhi project was Yellow Line Project hosted by Gati Dance Forum, New Delhi.

He also collaborated with other renowned artists like Takao Kawaguchi-Japan,Ryoya Fudetani-Japan,Choy Kai ai-Singapore,Karolin ken-Sweden,Chaoba Thiyam-India,Kartik Sood-India.

Bonbon has been at many International and National level artists’ residencies and dance festivals.He has toured and participated at some of the very important dance festivals in the world. His works tours in Switzerland, France, Singapore, Belgium, Japan, USA, Germany, Spain, Portugal, UK and others.

One of his own piece “OneVoice” (solo) was among the nominated award for a short piece. It was 2013 at Theatre Spektakel Festival, Zurich.

He is also an award-winning choreographer. His own piece NERVES, an ensemble with 5 movers including himself on stage won PECDA 2014.Late,again his new work FOLKTALE got an award for PECDA award 2016.successfully securing funding and mentoring for his choreographic work.

He is the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Nachom Arts Foundation, Manipur. NAF has been working with many different projects in Manipur focusing on contemporary performing arts platform.

https://www.facebook.com/NAFmanipur

for any feeedback or queries please write to sudipta@culturemonks.in

 

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