UtahPresents’ Bollywood Boulevard, a journey through Hindi cinema, was performed for a lively audience in a packed Kingsbury Hall. Brooke Horejsi, executive director of UtahPresents, introduced the show, and recalled seeing the company at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors series, loving it, and wanting to bring it to Utah audiences for the purposes of both entertainment and to showcase of a different part of the world.
Bollywood Boulevard combined the talents of Heena Patel (executive producer and artistic director), Rushi Vakil (executive producer, music director, and composer), and Rohit Gijare (choreographer and dancer) to create an homage to Bollywood, chronologically taking us through Hindi cinema’s black and white era, Golden Era, and into present day. Musicians and singers flanked the stage as the combination dancers-actors performed each snippet of the featured film. It was colorful, lively, celebortary, and incredibly nostalgic (based on audience reactions) for those that are familiar with Hindi cinema.
I have limited experience with Bollywood, but my friend I attended with, Srilatha (Latha) Singh, has much more -- she was born and raised in Delhi, India. Her voice will be included throughout, as her opinions and perspective shaped my experience of the evening.
Latha explained Bollywood pulls from various cultural and religious forms (for the dancing, music, and costuming) and then makes these forms not only widely accessible but also secular. She pointed out moments during the performance that hinted toward various groups living in India: Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, and tribal groups. In this way, I could see the important role Bollywood has played in bringing diverse groups together and celebrating universal stories of love, hardship, triumph, and family.
Each scene, never lasting more than a couple of minutes, was introduced with a graphic on the cyclorama that gave information about the movie it was drawing from. The pacing was quick, and when the show landed on local guest artist Sonali Loomba performing Kathak (modern dance entry point: Akram Khan’s formative training is in Kathak), I wished that time could be suspended to dwell longer on this classical form. Kathak began in Hindu temples as a means to convey scriptures but, similar to ballet, eventually made its way to the courts and is celebrated in various ways today, one being concert dance. I felt a desire to delve into the pulsating footwork and detailed upper body of the form, but the performance’s structure did not accommodate this.
Bollywood as a movement genre is not really a concert dance form; as Latha says, “it is a participatory art form.” It is at its strongest when you are celebrating alongside the performers, as was clearly demonstrated at the end of the show. The audience was invited to get out of our seats and fill the aisles, dancing alongside the performers. It was joyous to see so many audience members enjoying movement, music, and community. It was the perfect release after spending the evening watching the performers evoke the stories of this beloved form of entertainment.
There was a moment, about halfway through the show, when I leaned over to Latha and asked, “Do you know most of these movies?” She replied, smiling, “Every single one. They would take the most popular songs and play them on Doordarshan (the official television channel owned by the Indian government) every Wednesday night.”
In that moment, I was struck by the beauty of being able to sit with a friend who recognized and understood every cultural reference, while I recognized none. What a world! I did appreciate the bright colors, the swirling and circling, the shimmying and bouncing, the upbeat and rhythmic dancing, the soulful singing; but Latha could connect each vignette with a specific time and place in her life, or decode the theme of a dance or the words to a song. My enjoyment wasn’t based in nostalgia (though I enjoyed watching and listening as others’ was) but rather on being introduced to a fresh view of aesthetics and entertainment.
Erica Womack is a Salt Lake City-based choreographer. She coordinates loveDANCEmore’s Mudson series and contributes regularly to the blog.