Dialogue across borders – stunning theatre performance

SHILLONG: The Welsh and Khasi Cultural Dialogues in association with the Department of Cultural and Creative Studies, NEHU staged a theatre performance by Lapdiang Syiem and Rys ap Trefor of Wales at the Khasi National Durbar Hall here on Tuesday.
Titled Performing Journeys, the play is based on Khasi folk tales and Welsh missionary letters and writings, both of which deal with literal and symbolic journeys in different ways.
The performance synthesises the different forms of telling and performing in stories, letters, music and visual and physical modes from the two cultures which have had a religio- cultural exchange for over 150 years.
The soliloquy interspersed with dialogues between the performers gives the audience a glimpse of the duality in the manner in which the Welsh saw their role and the Khasi people viewed it.
Both Lapdiang Syiem and Rys ap Trefor are professionals par excellence and this comes through in their performance which is powerful and involves much physical interface.
The duo portrayed the intensity of the killer earthquake that hit the Khasi Hills in 1897 and the devastation it caused while it lasted.
Also portrayed is the much talked about script of the Khasis which was ostensibly swallowed up by a Khasi person while swimming across rivers in the civilisational journey even while the non-Khasi who carried the script on his head managed to save it.
The play begins with a projection of the ubiquitous Khasi folk take about the Lum Sohpet Bneng where earth was joined to heaven by an umbilical cord in the form of a golden ladder and sixteen families regularly came down to earth and returned to heaven. But seven families were lured by sin and lost their access to the tree of life after the bridge was severed. They continued to remain on earth and are called Ki Khun U Hynniewtrep Hynniew Skum.
Also depicted in the play is the Khasi aversion for the outsider, portrayed in the local folk narrative as U Sier Lapalang who went to the hills across his homeland looking for greener pastures despite his mother’s warning. U Sier Lapalang met a violent death after being shot by an arrow that was rusted. His mother’s lamentations are captured in a painful dirge in the Khasi song, U Sier Lapalang.
Gareth Bonello, a Welsh musician, provided the background music on the duitara which he has mastered very diligently during his short visits to Meghalaya.
The play directed by Lisa Lewis of Wales with Desmond Kharmawphlang head of the Cultural and Creative Studies, NEHU is a treat and deserves to be seen by a larger audience across the world. Lapdiang and Rys have excelled all expectations.
An exhibition that narrates the journey of the Welsh to the Khasi Hills was also put up at the venue.
The 2-day performance will be staged for the second day at 6.30 pm on Wednesday at the same venue.

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