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Monday, April 25, 2016


Spectacular dances in fast-paced show. (Review by Priya Dala)

India is so many things to so many people. To some, it is the Motherland that they yearn for; to others it is a mystery that can never be explained, but rather to experience first-hand.

Mystic India, a show that arrived on our shores on its world tour, from the bastion of show theatre – Broadway New York, attempted to give you that experience through the medium of dance.

Throughout the performance, I was reminded of Mark Tully’s award-winning book No Full Stops in India. With Mystic India there was not a full stop in sight. It began with an opening act that seemed ill-chosen as a crowd teaser, a half-hour solo violin interpretation of popular Western music. That aside, when the actual show did begin, it never stopped (bar a 20-minute interval).

The dances were spectacular. The producers clearly had studied the Bollywood tradition of large group dance formations with a central lead dancer, surrounded by an agile troupe. In that style, it lent itself well to certain aspects of the narration, but somehow took something away from others.

Narration is not used lightly here because the narrator, in theatrical style, told us at every step of the way that we were being taken on a journey through India. The journey turned out to be a somewhat narrow one but given the vastness of Indian dance and music as an art-form, I understood that there was only that much you could pack into a two-hour show.

Religious references to the Krishna-Leela, which is a dance of Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha, was treated well, taking you into a woody forest watching Radha flirting with a Krishna that wafted into and out of the frame. A historical nod to King Akbar was one of the highlights, and AR Rahman’s famous Sufi Song delighted many of us.

Of course, there would be no India without the Bollywood insertion. And this is where some disappointment began to creep in. The dancers were extremely energetic, and clearly well practiced, but the interpretation of Bollywood was reduced to a large segment on seductive item numbers. Perhaps a montage of Bollywood through the ages, with a change in that frenetic pace into one for which Bollywood is synonymous? The soft, lilting romance that could have effectively been depicted by two simply-clad dancers, instead of the onslaught that had one wondering if this is all Bollywood is about. I eagerly awaited the advertised aerial displays, which seemed absent.

Speaking of pace, it was wonderful in small doses, but after a while, it became dizzying, and it left one hankering after simplicity. The costumes were astounding in colour and design. The narrator could have been clearer in his speech, and the interludes of religion in the way of descriptions of the Hindu Gods did not blend well into the dances that accompanied them. Nevertheless, it was bright, loud and frantic. Full stops aside, a comma or two would not have gone amiss.

Mystic India has moved on to Johannesburg where it runs at the TeatroMontecasino from April 29 to May 1, 2016. – Priya Dala