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A CurtainUp London Review
For many Beyond Bollywood is the Asian equivalent of the Western juke box musical — familiar tunes from Bollywood movies, a thin story line and in this case, fabulous dance with amazing costumes. But for this reviewer who isn't familiar with the movie genre, it was an adventure, a voyage into reverie, a chance to learn about the differing dance styles of India and to soak up an exotic atmosphere. I found it worthwhile doing some preliminary research into Indian regions and dance.
I appreciated the introduction to the instruments in the Indian orchestra; Sitar, drums - pakhawaj and tabla, keyboard, each demonstrated by a soloist. The first dance is the most complex, classical Indian dance or Kathak, which tells a story: where every hand gesture and facial expression and movement of the feet mean something with the chukra or tukra, the fast and faster twirling dance on the heels of the foot with bells on the ankles. The Kathak is introduced by classical dancer Pooja Pant as the mother of Shaily (Ana Ilmi).
There is excitement in the audience as Ana Ilmi takes centre stage with psychedelic lighting effects. The sets are CGI, slightly pixelated, but the only economic way to convey so many different places and festivals. In Munich, Shaily has inherited her dead mother's theatre, known for its Indian dance spectaculars. There is a modern dance with fairground wheels in the background, with jumping on and off chairs. We switch to India with girls in pink satin frou frou skirts who dance Bollywood style in the Indian Western fusion that is one aspect of the Bollywood film industry. Shaily fulfills her mother's dying wish by visiting India for the first time.
Shaily auditions for a Bollywood choreographer break dancing to Jazz Funk. A scene in a nightclub is set in monochrome with men in shiny suits and a lone girl, scantily clad in a red sequined costume. The Ganesha festival brings computer generated elephants and images of the elephant god Ganesh.
In India Shaily falls for the handsome choreographer Raghav (Mohit Mathur) who is looking to exploit her fusion dances. As Raghav revisits his folk roots, there is a competition of folk dancers in orange and gold costumes, the men wearing those trousers fashioned out of a full skirt and fabric tucked into the waistband and bi-corn gold helmets. They whirl around with amazing energy. We switch to a backdrop of a Taj Mahal type background for the love dance. The first act closes with the lovely single from the show "Namaste India" written by Salim-Sulaiman Merchant, the composers who are brothers.
The second act opens with the Garba from the Gujerat region of Western India with a love song of praise to Lord Krishna, the blue god. This dance is exciting with beautiful dance as men dance with drums and women twirling and then, like English Morris Men, they dance with sticks. The men wear short skirts, attached to their waistcoats, which circle as they spin round.
All the lyrics are in Hindi but the words are in the programme in English. The music while distinctively Indian is tuneful and I am reminded that Queen's Freddie Mercury's heritage was Gujerati and his early musical experience was of Bollywood music.
The Bhangra dance from the Punjab sees a dance with coloured shiny scarves and a shouted "Hoy!" at the end of each sequence, and then dancing with long poles. To Agra to the Taj Mahal in full splendor for Holi, the colour festival and the set backdrop generates what seems to be clouds of exploding powdered paint.
With the many armed goddess Kali in the background, the Lezim, the warrior dance of Maharashtra, never before seen on a Western stage incorporates the vengeance and danger that is Kali. The Weather Girls' "It's Raning Men" is homage to modern Western musical choreography as Rajeev Goswani, the writer, director and choreographer shows he can choreograph in this style also and we see the physique of the male dancers.
If the plot is Boy Meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy Finds Girl Again, the story is not why you will come to see Beyond Bollywood. I also found the comic sequences with Sudeep Modak as Ballu not hitting the spot as I failed to appreciate the cultural comic transfer. Shaily returns to Munich to find her theatre sold to a business man. We're not sure what the final outcome was but I think Shaily saved the theatre with a brilliant new dance show helped by her friends and of course the dancing spirit of her mother.
Beyond Bollywood is essentially a dance show with fabulous costumes and choreography. It is different from a Western musical entertainment but I found it refreshing, highly skilled and thrilling. The show finishes with the whole cast in the signature song, "Namaste India", an explosion of dance and colour.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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