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Wednesday, September 14, 2011


(Joy Sengupta as Viswas and Suchitra Pillai as Lata)

Natural and effortless performances from every cast member. (Review by Mayuri Naidu)

The Shared History festival is now in its fifth year and its aim is to expose the many facets of Indian culture. From food to yoga, literature, theatre and contemporary and classical dance, it takes place across all the major cities in South Africa. In association with the High Commissioner of India South Africa, this year 'Shared History' presented three items in Durban.

Dance like a Man has had an all-too-short run of two performances in the Playhouse. Written by Mahesh Dattani, the ensemble cast included Vijay Chrishna (Jairaj), Joy Sengupta (Viswas), Suchitra Pillai (Lata) and Lillete Dubey(Ratna). Lillete was also director.

The performance tells the story of two Bharatnatyam dancers, Jairaj and Ratna, who are past their prime while their daughter (Lata) is on the verge of great success. Although comedic in tone, there are subtle tensions that become more obvious before and after Lata's debut and subsequent rave reviews. Tragedies are revealed as we journey with the characters into their own stories, hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities. Simultaneously, Lata has also brought home the man she wishes to marry if her father permits it. Viswas provides much of the comic relief but in conversations with his future father in law reveals much of the family dynamics.

A beautifully created set design represented the living room of their house, with effectively placed Nataraja's (the deity of dance). Everywhere, though, are reminders of the previous owner (Jairaj's father), from the antique Rosewood cabinet containing his prized shawl, to the very effective picture frames hanging on the 'walls'. This struck a note with me, as it was clear from the flashbacks that Jairaj's father played an enormous role in shaping his success (or lack thereof) as a dancer. The picture was an effective reminder of the ghosts that haunted this family.

Jealousy between the parents and daughter is played out and brings about many tragic revelations. Ratna, in particular, unravels more than Jairaj. The bitter disappointment and regrets are never far from the surface between husband and wife. The theme of love being lost in a relationship of many years of unfulfilled dreams will strike a chord with many. Issues of caste, alcoholism and even homosexuality were touched on during the two-act piece.

The family dynamics, not only between husband and wife but also mother and daughter, are universal in their emergence. It’s particularly relevant for someone with a performance background, which makes it all the more memorable for me.

The transition between comic and tragic and comedy disguised as tragedy is skilfully played out, with natural and effortless performances from every cast member.

The title can mislead one into thinking there would be more dancing, but classical Indian dance cannot be performed unless one is relatively well-versed in that art form. It would be especially difficult to do it in front of the biggest diaspora of Indians outside of India! This festival should have been far more publicised as these international pieces are what people need to see to understand why the arts must be supported, regardless of race. – Mayuri Naidoo