Performing Journeys

Group: Khasi-Welsh Collective

Director: Lisa Lewis


Shāsita Sharir

Group: Indo-European Residency

Director: Imogen Butler-Cole



Unconventional performance allows artists to explore subjects in ways that mainstream theatre often cannot. The British Council’s support of intercultural collaboration exposes local performers and viewers to new approaches through the work of British directors here.


Performing Journeys, by the Khasi-Welsh Collective under Lisa Lewis’s direction, threw a mesmeric aura round the little-known relation between two minorities in the 19th century. The Welsh Missionary Society played a major role in modernizing Khasi culture to its present cosmopolitanism, which Lewis presents through a minimalist lens: an actor each from Wales and Meghalaya, and a musician duo likewise. Starting with a Khasi creation myth, they narrate the friction among tribes, the arrival of the Welsh and construction of the first church in Shillong, and the devastation of the 1897 earthquake, interspersed with the folktale of a stag’s border crossing and its tragic result, from Esther Syiem’s moving verse rendition in her book Many Sides of Many Stories.


To hear two ancient marginal languages, the Austro-Asiatic Khasi and the Celtic Welsh, spoken respectively by National School of Drama graduate Lapdiang Syiem and Rhys ap Trefor, periodically communicating in the lingua franca of English, was a wondrous experience. They interacted inside a symbolic circumference of sand (see photograph) with tiny paper boats moored outside. Trefor carried a travelling valise full of old books which he placed in rows, representing the 26 letters of the alphabet that the oral-tradition Khasi accepted as their script. I learnt that the Khasis call their four-string lute a duitārā – adopted from Bengali minstrels? Who said borders are watertight?


On a more traumatic note, Shāsita Sharir by artist-in-residence Imogen Butler-Cole transformed into dance-theatre her interviews of women survivors of assault in Kolkata, which she used as voiceovers. The first-person accounts seared the audience, incriminating also the insensitivity of police and courts, but ended in messages of healing and hope. The accomplished Papia Chakrabarty and two dancers from Kolkata Sanved (Suktara Khatun and Tilottama Chowdhury) interpreted the memories powerfully, though some of choreographer Vanessa Maria Mirza’s movements have become staples of scenes depicting sexual violence. Debjit Mahalanobis improvised accompaniment on cello, an ideal instrument for the sombre theme.


(From The Times of India, 14 February 2020)