World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Sohini Ray

GENRE: Manipur
First Appearance in EDF: 2014

Manipuri is not currently danced or taught in the Bay Area. Sohini Ray is based in Los Angeles and she is an outstanding performer and prolific scholar, considered by many to be the world’s leading interpreter of Manipuri dance. Sohini has traveled and researched in remote regions of Manipur for twenty years. She was spotted by her guru, the legendary Guru Bipin Singh, as a child prodigy at the age of seven, and started performing professionally at age twelve, receiving numerous prizes and fellowships throughout
her career. A versatile performer, director, chorographer, teacher and scholar, she has her own company, The Manipuri Dance Visions Ensemble. She has toured all over India, North America, and Europe as a solo artist and also with her students, receiving rave reviews. She has received many grants and awards in North America and India including the prestigious Lester Horton Award given by the Dance Resource Center of Los Angeles.


TITLES: Swara Prabandha; Pung Cholom
SOLOIST: Sohini Ray

Soloist Sohini Ray presents two pieces from the manipuri dance tradition. This classical art form originates in Manipur in eastern India, home to many ethnic communities, singing and recitation traditions from the ritualistic Meitei society, and a rich martial art history. As in other Indian classical traditions, classical manipuri dancers refer to ancient texts like Natya Shastra and Abhinayadarpanam for references on the dance form.

The first piece, Swara Prabandha, is an excerpt from Rasleela, the well-known dance where Lord Krishna’s dances with the gopi cowherders and each girl believes she has danced with him alone. This section shows Radha’s friend Lalita dancing for Radha and Krishna. The costume has a deep religious significance: it is the traditional poloi costume of Rasleela in manipuri dance. The melodic pattern is raga bhupali. The singing is traditional, from the natal sankirtana, a devotional ensemble performance held within the Meitei society of Manipur. Although the temple form of this piece is still performed in Manipur, this choreography is by the late Guru Bipin Singh, who created some of the first adaptations of classical manipuri dance for modern stage.

The title of Sohini’s next piece is also the name of its form: Pung Cholom literally means Movement with Drums. It’s a drum dance, also from the natal sankirtana tradition of ritual performance. This is a solo from a larger ensemble piece where drum dancers are joined by singers, dancers, and cymbal musicians. The drum dance is still a strictly male genre in Manipur, and Sohini Ray is one of those fortunate few who studied with Guru Bipin Singh, pioneer in teaching drum dance to women. Her costume is the white dhoti, a loose loincloth worn by male drummers. In India, male dancers perform bare-chested with no jewelry.

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