Edinburgh Festival Fringe: The Indian showcase in the Fringe this year is funded by the Ministry of Culture and other government bodies but overseen by Teamwork Arts, with strong ties to Edinburgh over the years but most famous for producing the world’s greatest literary jamboree, the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.
DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE & CIRCUS
Dance Base (Venue 22)
Elephant in the Room
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
The Offering (Guru Dakshina)
C venues – C royale (Venue 6)
In the Tattoo this year, Teamwork has brought the Naval Band with a troupe of Indian dancers but on the Fringe an interesting decision has been made: all three shows are solo performances, two of them in very modest venues. It may reflect an experienced eye on Edinburgh and the balance of budget and ticket sales.
Majuli is a gift to any festival. It’s in the perfect setting, a clean and simple but roomy studio at Dance Base – though even here, the audience is an intimate size. The plop and squelch of water introduces us to a performance of changing rhythms and moods. Majuli is the world’s largest river island, 80 kilometres long, its shores washed by the Brahmaputra river. It is a place that has fascinated dancer Shilpika Bordoloi since her childhood in Assam, and she delivers an entrancing reflection of its watery ways.
Bordoloi trained in Indian classical dance from the age of 3, and deliberately chose never to train in Western dance techniques. She took frequent boat rides around the island with her father. The piece is presented by the Brahmaputra Cultural Foundation, part of “a journey of stories” about the river, which empties into the mangrove delta in the Bay of Bengal. The soundscape includes 32 instruments, for water, birds, and dramatic moments of the production. You can let your own imagination work on the piece, but at times Bordoloi dances to cymbals in the manner of a yellow canary; or she twists across the floor, flowing with the flute.
Then she is rowing with huge effort through tangled floating plants across the delta, shown on a subtle back screen which has the quality of a visual art piece. In parts the piece reflects the violent turmoil of frequent floods, urbanisation, and the erosion of an island thought to have lost a third of its landmass since the second half of the 20th century.
“Even the mirror refuses to call me its own,” laments the boy with the elephant head, in Elephant in the Room. The central character in this variation on the legend of Lord Ganapati, or Ganesha, is a young man in search of his own head, a blundering boy who falls in with a loquacious spider and a devious poacher. They hold the vulnerable Master Tusk for ransom, before he turns the tables. The work is aimed at children and families, playing early evening in another well-chosen container space in the Assembly Rooms operation on George Street.
Performer Yuki Ellias graduated from the Lecoq School in Paris and has worked on the piece for three years; it’s a fine performance of vivid artistry that includes remarkable moments, as when she seems to run on one leg. It is a striking, accomplished piece, but sometimes fails to deliver on the distinctions between characters. Ellias may have been distracted by a mike problem early in the show.
Aditya Roy cautions at the end of The Offering (Guru Dakshina) that the Indian mythical references in his piece may be lost on Western audiences. It’s cast as a performance that draws on his martial arts training, to explore the relationship between Guru and the Shishya, or Master and Student. It opens and closes beautifully, with Roy playing the instrument that will become his sword.
Fringe audiences take a show as they find it, however. The Offering evolved as the all too familiar story of the frustrated student who wants to learn too much, too fast, and is instead set to repetitive or seemingly pointless tasks by his wise master, sent off on journeys that take many days and many nights. You have seen it in Star Wars or the Karate Kid.
It’s clear that he has put every effort into the work, written by his mother, but it needed more humour and more characterisation to pull the audience along in sympathy. Having built things up for the final battle, it did not quite deliver on the high kicks.
Majuli until 20 August. Tomorrow 6pm. Elephant in the Room until 26 August. Tomorrow 6:25pm. The Offering until 28 August. Tomorrow 3:45pm.