5 December 2018

Suriname: Migration history of Lalla Rookh told through dance, music and poetry

Raj Mohan and Shailesh Bahoran in a conversation with an audience of youngsters, after a performance in Nickerie.

Performances by choreographer Shailesh Bahoran have brought the story of the Lalla Rookh to life for audiences in Suriname.

History told through art
The production Lalla Rookh, by choreographer and dancer Shailesh Bahoran (Illusionary Rockaz Company), tells the story of the ship that brought the first migrants from India to Suriname for indentured labour, in 1873. For a special tour through Suriname this November, the original production was revived with live music and poetry. The show tells of the challenges and hardships in the migrants’ lives, but also reflects their hopes for a better future. Members of the original cast from the Netherlands with Hindustani roots were chosen to join the production in Suriname, including Shailesh Bahoran and Raj Mohan (singer, poet & musician). Two dancers and musicians were specifically cast in Suriname. 

Shailesh Bahoran was born and raised in Nickerie, a small farming district with the biggest Hindustani population in Suriname. Through this project, Bahoran aimed to give something back to the land of his birth and inspire young people to both discover their roots and explore possibilities for the future.

Personal impact
The show was presented six times in Nickerie and Paramaribo for some 1700 people, including children from different schools and an orphanage. In collaboration with the Lalla Rookh Museum, a photo exhibition was also organised. For many locals, the project brought up personal stories about the Lalla Rookh that have been told for generations. It was a powerful experience for the cast as well: “I feel very honoured to be part of the processing of this past, by using my own passion.” – dancer Dave Simson. For locals working in the arts and culture, the performance served as inspiration: “Remarkable pieces like Lalla Rookh are rare in Suriname. The singing, music, mimics, emotion and energy of the dancers grabbed me from the beginning until the end.” – Rishi Moella, Geet Shaala Singing School. Responses from youngsters from Nickerie range from being inspired and wishing for a place to learn how to perform, to feeling proud to see people search for their roots.

This project was supported by DutchCulture’s Shared Cultural Heritage Matching Fund.