On Sunday 10th July the Dancing Monks of Majui Island descended on Kings College to present to an open audience the beauty and intricacies of Sattriya Dance (the Indian Classical Dance of Assam, Northeast India) to tremendous and involving effect.
The special thing about London is that there is always something going on and that’s even more true when it comes to theatre and performance. From the West End shows to fringe theatre to performance art, you are never far from something. An example is Paths to Utopia, an exhibition of art and performance brought through a collaboration between Somerset House and Kings College London.
Paths to Utopia is a collection of new artworks, all of which are the result of collaborations between artists, architects, technologists and King’s academics. The idea behind it all is to give audiences the chance to delve deeper into the ideas and the people behind the art that they encounter.
As part of the festival on Sunday 10th July the Dancing Monks of Majui Island descended on Kings College to present to an open audience the beauty and intricacies of Sattriya Dance (the Indian Classical Dance of Assam, Northeast India).
As previously mentioned there are wonderful opportunities like this that happen around London all the time, but the downside to this is that a lot of these opportunities are missed due to lack of visibility. This, sadly, was the case with the Dancing Monks performance. There were no sign posts to guide those seeking the event or to attract the public.
Likewise, it felt that none of the staff knew what was going on, especially with regards to whether the event was being held indoors or outdoors. The initial impression was one of disorganisation which continued as a few people gathered in the entrance to one of the Kings College buildings, as the sounds of students reverberated through the building and there was no sign of a performance.
Fortunately, with the entrance of the Monks this was all rectified and the small audience settled in for the performance.
The performance was both bold and soft and had a call and response nature to the movements. A group of the monks began the show, combining the use of instruments, movements and vocals to set a ritualistic tone. The lead performer then made his entrance and through authority and elegance began to guide the audience and the other Monks through the various incarnations of Vishnu.
The entrance hall transformed into a performance space as the sounds of the instruments echoed around the building, drowning out everything else and commanding attention. The acoustics were incredible and made up for the initial confusion surrounding where the performance would be held. Likewise, as there was a last minute change of venue the way the Monks used the space was excellent, they glided across the floor and enveloped the vast concrete entrance hall into their performance.
The Monks brought both poise and strength to the dance and took the audience through a story. Sadly, the explanation as to what the different movements symbolised and why the Monks chose to do this particular dance was left until after the performance. The audience learnt that this particular representation of the incarnations of Vishnu included the Fish, Tortoise, Boar, Dove, Hero with the axe Hero of the Ramayana.
The Monks chose to do this dance in London as it is inspired by a tapestry in the British Museum. This introduction to the dance would have been helpful, interesting and welcoming at the beginning of the performance – but again this was a problem with the structure of the performance as opposed to a fault with the performance itself.
The next performance was the Gayan-Bayan: an energetic and joyful celebration that demonstrated the versatility of the two-faced drum used in the monasteries. After a brief walk outside, where the Monks literally drummed up a crowd through the pure jubilance of their performance, the Monks descended into the entrance hall.
In their traditional attire the monks began to rhythmically command the space by using both their bodies and the drums. The khol drums were loud and powerful, amplified by the acoustics of the entrance hall and the movements were performed with style, elegance and command. As a result of this the Monks created a dramatic atmosphere as their power and excitement filled the hall.
This particular dance showed the audience the control, dedication and enjoyment the Monks experience through this ritualistic, creative form of worship. Every sound and movement had a purpose, from the pounding of their feet on the ground, to the clash of the cymbals and the bang of a drum – it created a very atmospheric and exciting performance.