Shilpika Bordoloi is a multifaceted artist

Shilpika Bordoloi: Sadhana Is The Most Important Part Of Any Practice

October 25, 2021

Shilpika Bordoloi is an artist having her expertise in various fields- from dance/movement to theatre. She is also a yoga therapist.

In conversation with Utpal Datta, we get to know more about Shilpika Bordoloi and her life and works so far.

Utpal Datta: You have been practising and teaching a distinctive dance form - Independent movement - would you throw some lights on its physical appearance and aesthetic appeal?

Shilpika Bordoloi: It is a movement from within, inside out in expression. It happens when it is no longer a "position" or a "pose" but a moment of being. It is about feeling, observing, and embodiment. And when it becomes, it touches the audience in a far more profound way than a technically perfect physical appearance because the audience does not just see/listen but journeys with the performer. The shapes and forms I am deeply inspired by are spirals and circles.. perhaps an influence of the Manipuri essence that I carry even though I have shed the form.

Utpal Datta: You are also a wellness therapist. May we know a little more about this therapy - what is this and how you practice it. How can this help everyday people? 

Shilpika Bordoloi: The therapeutic aspect of arts has deeply moved me and I have worked in facilities of mental health in the past, besides creating modules for personality development and personal growth.

As an artist, the notion of self is the biggest question and discovery. The psychological impact on characters, the development of stories from the inner workings. Then the practice of yoga has been a great friend, along with techniques of energy movement such as Tai Chi Quan and Fieldenchris method.

The psychosomatic practices have evolved in me and I make offerings that can benefit anyone and everyone. I teach sessions online on Yoga Asana every week. Then, as a workshop module, I facilitate an experiential journey for men and women to reconnect to intuition, let go of stress/worry/fears/limiting beliefs and rediscover through art, some guided creative practices.

Then there are other modules that I make according to the person's situation/problem... I use a combination of work with the body, visualisations, healing modalities eg EFT, guidance techniques of Tarot Cards, Dowsing with Pendulum, Akashic Records. and breathwork of all kinds --- the intersection of dance, theatre, yoga and healing practices creates abundant space for me to be in a position where I can be of service to others.

Shilpika Bordoloi is a multifaceted artist

Utpal Datta: SNA had awarded you with Ustad Bismillah Khan Award. How this award brought changes to your Sadhana of arts.

Shilpika Bordoloi: I firmly believe that Sadhana is the most important part of any practice and rewards or not. It should evolve and remain the priority for the seeker.

However, it is difficult to sustain it, especially when the path chosen is not to follow someone or an established form but to create one's own form/language/practice/method etc.

I am deeply grateful that SNA awarded my work. It is an outside affirmation and that is necessary too. I have often found myself not really doing any new-age marketing effort and hence this award has helped people who surround me to understand that what I do is also real work.

I also believe that awards are never to an individual but it is a recognition to my teachers and my colleagues and all my supporters through me.

I think it was just pure joy to see the happiness they felt. And that sense of community and growth helped me to build my centres in Assam, NOI and Bhumi and all work towards culture through my NGO, Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation.

Utpal Datta: Now, please tell me your journey as an artist and as a person.

Shilpika Bordoloi:: Firstly it was this blessing to have been born into a particular culture, family and have good guides/teachers to date. I am deeply grateful for the privileges I have been born into and receive even today.

I was always the student who was good in everything, studies and extracurricular. The abstract and the spiritual have always drawn me from an early time. I could spend hours in nature and feel really content by time with dogs, cows, talking to my grandparents, sitting in a naamghar etc... I don't know what it means to be bored. I have not been bored as a child and as an adult.

Shilpika Bordoloi is a multifaceted artist

I have been impulsive and known to speak my mind and fight for justice and fairness. I don't shy about wearing what I want, doing what feels right, eating what I want, speak my heart. Being free is really important to me. And while that meant a lot of great experiences, it also meant that I am difficult with patriarchy.

I have made mistakes in choosing men and it led to heartbreaks, divorce, and so on. Choosing this kind of career also meant great financial risks and many tough challenges to figure out. And am so glad I rushed at nothing. I lived through the struggle, confusion, fears and doubts. And today I have reached a day that I feel so adequate within myself.

As an artist, I began with classical dances and that journey with the rich forms was a true blessing. The work with forms and art were often unplanned and life just gave me those doors and I walked in or out. As I started carving my road, I met amazing students too and continue to meet so... the pedagogy is developing in a very interesting way with intersections of dance, screen dance, theatre, healing, visual arts. The choreographer and the performer and the director in me also intersecting time and again with the stories I tell.

As a fabric of the community through the NGO work at BCF my responsibility grew and I am learning to be a curator, administrator and to work with a variety of people. The knowledge and experiences in the last decade of indigenous knowledge systems and practices/rituals of our tribes and non-tribes are developing into various programs and venues across Assam.

Our venues are available for artists to gather, to perform and are for all ages. We run Moina mel in both our venues in Jorhat, Golaghat and encourage all learning opportunities with silence, wellness, arts and culture. We have been working for a few years now for the revival and re-imagination of our folk instruments and have a youtube channel called Lore.

We have a young band of 6 boys who play some 30 instruments, and now we are curating a space in Guwahati which will house these instruments at the Brahmaputra River Heritage Centre. I am also in the process of making the next screen-dance film on subjects of climate change from our region.

Utpal Datta: You had worked with a huge number of international collaborations. What you have gained from those collaborations and how you have contributed to those productions?

Shilpika Bordoloi: I have found some wonderful artists that I have collaborated with locally or internationally. And the relationship has developed over many projects and time. I can't generalise people as a collective. They are all individuals with whom there is resonance and understanding of work, approaches, value systems. For example, Michel Casanovas from France was my Dramaturge from my work "Majuli". We started working together in 2012 and are still working together. When I met him I was deeply moved by his gentle approach to bodywork and he introduced me to the Fieldenchris method, which is a gentle psychosomatic practice and useful not just to heal people but a fantastic approach to body awareness and discovery of a kind where "Small is more".

He was important to my creative process of Majuli. Since it was a solo and I was performing as well as directing it, he was my outside eyes, giving me feedback. He, being an outsider,  worked as an advantage in the process. We started the work in a studio in Delhi and those improvisations together gave me a lot of motifs to work on. Later on, he travelled here meeting me in rehearsals with the piece development and now he had visual inputs of the geography too. He lived with me in Majuli and we also developed away from Majuli in Jorhat, in Bangalore, in Gokarna by the sea. It was an adventure and deeply enriching. He is a beautiful artist and human being. We lived our work as a way of life. I have invited him to do workshops in Jorhat and now we are once again working together on another work. I have experienced his Feldenkrais sessions online in the last year and this year and our relationship grows.

Then there is Kamal Musale with whom I made my first screen dance film called "Nature of Nescience"... another bond where there is friendship and open communication of creativity. We started working together on my project Katha Yatra that was conceived in 2011. We have been colleagues since then. Kamal is half Indian and half Swiss, and he grew up in Switzerland, so that side is always stronger. Though a filmmaker, he has an amazing understanding of the body that grew out of many collaborations with dancers/movers abroad. We spent a crazy week filming my every interaction in spaces/on location as we started work in Katha Yatra. We are not actively working together but if the other things of budget, travel fall in place we definitely will continue.

Utpal Datta: Your production based on Majuli aroused huge curiosity among art lovers across the globe. Would you love to share your experiences with that production?

Shilpika Bordoloi: Majuli was a blessed work and many people collaborated on that and shaped it. Firstly Sumana Chandrashekhar from IFA, (IFA had supported the creation of Majuli), in my many months of interaction with the grant and her. She made me reflect that my initial idea of Katha Yatra performance was too wide.

Her suggestions to narrow the scope led me to conceive Majuli as the starting point. All the creative collaborators, Michel Casanovas and my music team of were amazing. Work with music was significant because it led to uncovering 33 instruments that were played live and just from the Missing, Deori and Vaishnav community of Assam. It also led to the formation of BCF and my decision to stay back in Assam and relocate here.

I was in Delhi earlier. Majuli has travelled to many festivals in India and abroad. We have also performed in a site-specific way at the Under the Sal Tree festival, in Prakreethiyam in Trivandrum Kerala, Shoonya in Bangalore, on a floating raft and on the bank of the river on the sand. I have explored all possibilities of performances in spaces. At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we had 11 shows on 11 back-to-back days. That was an amazing opportunity to dive more and more into the piece. So many people from different cultures have resonated with it and given feedback on how it touched them... whether they knew Assam.

Choreographically, it was my first full length (1 hour ) work and I think with this non-verbal solo I truly entered into an evolving process of bodywork. My collaborators would love to perform this more and we want to take this story to so many more people and places. Of Course in the content of my relationship with the geography of Majuli is pre-2014 and a performance today of this work is truly archival in many ways.

Utpal Datta: Please let us know about your BCF.

Shilpika Bordoloi: Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation (BCF) is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2013 (under the Societies Act). It is a space of and for community participation, leadership, well being, education through arts and culture. While we preserve and promote cultural traditions and practices of Assam, we also showcase the best practices in performing and visual arts from all over the world.

The foundation aims to strike a balance between the flows of traditional and modern knowledge and address social, cultural, and developmental conflicts. Cultural exchanges, residencies, workshops, research-based work, performances have been the core areas so far. Our strength is our deep-rooted intention and a diverse team of artists, environmentalists, scholars, managers, village elders, farmers, youth and leaders.

We have a venue called NOI Center in Jorhat town, Assam, built with family spirit and to develop the feeling of family. Bhumi Centre located in the Golaghat district operates out of a Naam-ghar. Besides these two venues, we also work in different places in a community participatory way.

Utpal Datta: How can a person be involved/associated with your work/organization?

Shilpika Bordoloi: In many ways. If you are a patron of the arts/wellwisher, then please contribute, time, resources, ideas. You can contribute to funding a student who is learning theatre or instrument for a time period. You can contribute towards the creation of projects, whether on screen or stage. You can support an artisan by gifting an instrument to a student (both student and instrument maker will benefit).

You can volunteer with us for a project, collaborate with us if you feel our work essence. We need creative people to run our centres administratively, work in fund/friend-raising, bring new initiatives in other sectors of Arts, create more venues etc.

ALSO READ | In Conversation With Music Director Soumya Rit

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