The sattriya dance form was accepted by the Sangeet National Academy, India’s cultural arts body as the seventh ‘classical’ dance, and Menaka PP Bora, trained by her guru-mother is committed to promoting and popularising it. Sattriya has evolved in the monasteries of Assam as part of ritual worship by male monks and the Boras have been instrumental in bringing it to the stage.
At a forty-minute presentation in the informal setting of Asia House, Menaka portrayed the different elements that comprise sattriya, from the invocation to the pure dance and narrative. The dance is marked by deep pliés, contrasting elevations and little jumps, which give a dipping, or undulating quality to the dance. The arms are held at the shoulder height or raised above creating sculptural postures; hastas or hand gestures and facial expressions play their part as in other Indian classical dance forms.
Three dances were offered interspersed by commentary; Sula dance followed by a Krishna item and the longer Dasa Avatar (ten incarnations of Vishnu). The dances were short and the movement content felt rather thin. Menaka’s form and focus are not in doubt. She has grace, strength and fluidity. If sattriya is to move on, however, performers like Menaka have to build its repertoire by creating longer sequences using a wider palette of movement dynamics.