Folktales & reality timewarped in play

SHILLONG: Each time Lapdiang Syiem performs, the audience is compelled to feel what she feels, to emote with her and experience the searing pain as her powerful bodily expressions convey the present societal crises.
Theatre artiste Lapdiang Syiem performed the play captioned, Reaching Out To Grasp Roots..I Stand Uprooted, at the Khasi National Dorbar Hall, Mawkhar on Saturday. The performance draws from the story of U Thlen, (the blood sucking python that enriches its keepers if they feed it human blood) as the metaphor for the mindless pursuit of wealth at any and all costs.
Lapdiang then weaves in the story of U maw nguid briew (the stone that swallows a child) even while there is constant exchange between the mother and her child. The child is at its death throes as it struggles to break free of the stone that is in the act of swallowing it. The mother, bound as she is by routine and labour has become numb to the cries of her child. Lapdiang’s agonising wail as the little boy who sees death coming at him while he desperately screams out to his mother to come and save him, is bone-chilling…
The last part of the performance is excerpted from the poem Welcome to Jaintia Hills. It depicts the re- emergence of the Thlen in the present scenario bringing with it the complexities of labour, migration and ownership. The environmental devastation through coal mining portrayed by the continuous sound of a pick-axe hitting the black diamond even as the audience is left to imagine the plight of the labourers inside those dark rat holes which Lapdiang says ‘have no oxygen for breathing.’
Lapdiang says, “The performance is an inter-play of these characters identified through stories we have grown up hearing. They go further to reveal a deeper tragedy and a struggle to make sense of what we have become as a society. How do we identify with these stories in our present day reality?” These folk tales though seemingly simplistic in the way they have been narrated through our oral culture when further interrogated reveal the stark realities of the times we live in. Lapdiang has re-invented these narratives to tug at the human emotions which seem to have temporarily deserted us.
Lapdiang agonises like many youth today do over the coal mining and the disruptive evil it has become that is slowly consuming this land, its economy and human lives.
“It’s not possible to not feel the searing pain when reality is brought to you up close. We are living our lives as if here is no future. Lapdiang shows us the mirror and it is unbearable to watch what’s happening around us,” said a lady who first saw the theatre performance at Evening Club.
The play although narrated in verse both in Khasi and English needed no words. “The extremely agile body movements yet powerful physical expressions especially of the eyes complemented by the authoritative use of the body in performance is simply incredible,” said a member of the audience.
In the discussions following the performance there was a general feeling that Meghalaya has not yet discovered its theatre jewel. Lapdiang who graduated from the National School of Drama, New Delhi then went on to specialise in Physical Theatre from the Commedia School, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Defining her style of performance, Lapdiang says, “I have worked with body movement and expressions over the years so much so my body has now become a storyteller.”
Another theatre buff who has seen all of Lapdiang’s performances says, “Lapdiang needs a bigger platform and a larger audience not just to showcase her talent but to help us all do a reality check.”

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