"Imagine there are no boundaries / a brotherhood of man," sang John Lennon. I guess, from a distance, you could look at a performance of modern art in such a light. Even more so if the people come all the way from halfway across the globe to put up a show for you. But then, every coin has two sides, doesn't it? If you are one of those people who can't help listening to what's happening around you, you just might have heard the loud whispers asking 'What the hell are they doing?' Still, if you weren't at Ravindra Bharathi on Wednesday, August 1st, 2001, between the hours of 7.30 and 9.30pm, you missed something really worth watching.
The Dancers' Company of Brigham Young University, USA, was formed in 1974, and has many international performances under its belt. A bunch of students from this company was brought down by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), and boy, did they do their thing! This was exactly what the doctor ordered for the drought of cultural events our city has been under. The passes were pretty much growing on trees and the place was packed to capacity. Apparently the word had got around that there was an 'American' show in town, and with the Indian fascination for firangs, a full house was a foregone conclusion. And in true nawabi style, people were still walking in when the show began at 7.30pm sharp.
Caroline, one of the creative dance directors for the group, came on stage and explained that this group, unlike others, tries to present the 'Dance of the Future' - maybe that should have been warning enough! Anyway, the show began with 'Rodeo'. The guy behind me seriously explained to his friend the concept of cowboys and the like, and was quite surprised to find men and women prancing around with no horses. This dance was like an appetizer that just served to introduce the audience to how the rest of the evening would be. Believe me, it was a very inadequate appetizer.
This was followed by 'Ancient Walkings' - supposedly, this dance was inspired by aboriginal art. The whole thing was like a complicated bizarre ritual; the movements were positively scary and the music consisted of unheard sounds. It was good in parts, but the interest built up by the energetic first dance was clearly waning.
'Songs Without Words' was choreographed by the internationally famous Bill Evans. A conceptual difference was quite evident, and the dance has 6 women, each dressed in a different color, dancing quite gracefully to some happy, uplifting music.
Clearly, the time had come for some fun. And it came in the most unexpected fashion. The audience was treated to an absolutely delightful comic sequence titled 'Hambone For 2'. There were about 20 dancers on stage sitting on chairs and they provided the entire music - an energetic rhythm made by the dancers' hands and feet only. It was a lesson in absolute coordination, and it almost brought the house down! Trust the Hyderabadis to whole-heartedly appreciate something truly amazing!
Whatever came next would have to be a letdown. Okay, it wasn't as bad as all that, but, after a long and profound introduction, 'Place of No Tears' was, well, different. A solo, the piece was about one person experiencing inner peace and chaos alternately. The music had vocals for the first time, albeit in a strange tongue, which gave the piece a human feel. It's sad but understandable that the audience, which in all probability grew up with Indian classical dance, could not fully grasp the meaning and complexity of the piece. But still, it was quite heartening to see that youngsters made up a large section of the audience. And it was even more so to see the audience appreciate the danseuse's effort when told that she had been seriously ill for two days. That whole feeling of goodwill for her said more about our city than any words!
'Chrysaderia', named after a kind of butterfly, truly brought the whole concept of imagination to life. Choreographed by Caroline, it had the dancers moving with amazing agility with what can only be described as big elastic bands. The piece was very musical, and fantastic choreography meant that the dancers made intricate patterns with their bands and this sequence truly took the audience's breath away. No, really - the 'oohs' and 'aahs' were coming from all corners. Fascinating stuff!
The time had come for introductions and this was done in a totally novel way. As Caroline called out their names, they each came out and danced in they way they liked the most. Sheryl, Rachel, Tai, Heidi and many others showed that, even within a team, every dancer has his or her own individuality. Then, quite unexpectedly, they called up volunteers from the audience to come up on stage and dance with the 0American dancers! In a totally dance workshop-ish way, our very talented Hyderabadis, ranging in age from about 15 to 30, were put through the basics of modern dance. It was all in fun, and our junta really enjoyed it with a lot of fun and laughter!
There had to be a duet sometime, and it followed this highly enjoyable 15-minute period. 'And One' was well done and the coordination between the dancers was great. The final piece titled 'Upfront' was choreographed by the students themselves. It was truly amazing how they could be so full of bounce and energy after two hours of exhausting stuff (and it's unbelievable how tired you suddenly feel just watching them!). This sequence was the icing on the cake, with the coordination and timing being quite outstanding. A really great way to round off an excellent show.
Like I said, it's all about imagination. But it takes a great deal of that to try and think what the steps and gestures mean. I was warned beforehand that modern dance is all just about people prancing around in flimsy clothes, generally trying to float or glide or do something which at least looks graceful on stage. Well, it isn't all like that! It is said that every person has his or her own way of looking at and enjoying (or not enjoying, as the case may be) modern dance - I've found mine. And I'm sure so many of my fellow scared-of-change Hyderabadis did too.