Over the last week, I have been extremely fortunate to see two stage shows. The first was put on my Sonali’s mother and was traditional Gujarati dances and the second was put on by the Government of Gujarat and was the kick-off event for Vibrant Gujarat Navrati Festival 2006.
I believe I have seen a stage show in India before, but it was soo many years ago that I don’t even remember it, so I could these as my first.
I was really looking forward to seeing Sonali’s show because I would get to see how raas-garba stage performances are done in Gujarat. I knew that there were different from what the Indian diaspora has made raas-garba (more so raas) into in the States, so it would be interesting to see. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I really became aware of how we have blended styles and steps together and lumped it all under the name of garba without recognizing the diversity of the dance style itself. Garba is done is many many different way with each region having its own distinct style, yet in North America, particularly at the collegiate level, we simply call it garba and say that it represents all of Gujarat. It was interesting to see different types of moves that I use in my choreography sprinkled over different dances, it really was a testament to that fact that all the stuff I know is a mix of different styles. As I watched the dances, I knew I could do them myself, but when it comes to choreography, its funny how you only remember a small set of moves. It would be have great to participate in the dance so the moves would become muscle memory and engrained in my choreography as I would have done them over and over again at practices.
Many of the dances that I saw wouldn’t work for competition and probably would bore a lot of people, but that does not devalue the art or its beauty. While watching the show, I really felt a desire to learn how each dance really is done, what the differences are, etc and bring that knowledge back to the States to raise people’s awareness about it. The music was performed live at the show by the group that performs at all Chokshi parivar events and as usual were incredible.
The Vibrant Gujarat show was my first large scale stage show- on the scale of what is done for Filmfare awards, etc. The audience was HUGE. It began with a beam show to invoke Mataji, which was really enjoyable, followed by a segment on Gujarati dances. Initially a few dances were performed with mcs coming in between songs to explain the background of garba. I had difficulty understanding it all, but would love to have that info, especially for Satrang. Then there was an 11 garbo non-stop piece, where they showcased different Gujarati garbas from across the state. They had over 150 dances on stage at all times. One dance would be in the middle, while all the other styles, in their own costumes and moves, would dance to that song around the sides. You really had to pick a focus and watch that. The all-guys dance was simple in terms of the quantity of moves, but very powerful. I tried to learn the moves from watching, but definitely cannot remember everything.
The Gujarat piece was followed by 8 dances from different countries, which was a lot of fun to watch. The people I was with were getting bored from these dances, especially because it would be 6-10 people on a stage that was formerly occupied by over 150 dancers. The Indonesian dance (Rampai Aceh) was an absolute delight. The little boys from Nepal were charming, there did the Ramchandra, which to some degree is similar to raas. The level of precision and synchronization varied from group to group. The Isreali group performed modern dance, which they called platform. The Sri Lankan group did a jugalbandhi between Bharatnatyam and Kandoi (I think that’s what its called, the dancers would similar outfits to what the Sri Lankan group wore at Indus Culture Show, but the moves were much more intricate- that dance style requires as much training as any Indian classical style).
After the international dances, came the Unity through Diversity dance, which represented 13 different states of India. Again the stage was FILLED with dancers in different costumes, doing their own moves to whatever music was playing for each state’s dance. There were classical dances- Kathakali, Kathak, Mohiniattam and a wide variety of folk dances. The dancers from Orissa wore outfits similar to that of Odissi, but their dance was extremely acrobatic and required immense flexibility. They would write the name of the style on the screen as they were performed, but there was so much other stuff to see that I didn’t pay attention to it.
Lastly, there was a 1 lakh deevo aarti to Mataji. All the performers on stage had deevas and many woman were carrying the large tower of deevos on their head and then each audience member was given a deevo also for aarti.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was EXACTLY what I’ve wanted to see for years. I finally got to see so many different dance styles that I have read about live, done by people from the states that have been doing them for years. Granted there is differences between stage performances and the dances as they are done by the people on the ground, but nonetheless there is authenticity to the music and moves. In the Unity through Diversity piece, they did was Anita tried to show two years also with different dance styles coming together, but with one musical piece.
What I saw, really is what we have been trying to convey through Satrang. The diversity and vibrancy of India through its dances. It’s a shame that there is this immense lack of awareness of the diversity of dance in India in North America, but that really is because the skills to train and teach people in these styles isn’t readily available.
The shows gave me a newfound appreciation for the aunties who choreograph dances for Fogana, the traditional way. They really are trying to preserve the rich artistic heritage that Gujarat has in North America. At the collegiate level, we really have butchered a lot of dance styles, but its not necessarily because of ignorance or conscientious effort. Teachers don’t exist or aren’t affordable. People who have learned one dance styles once will go out and teach it to others in attempt to share, but of course things are going to be lost in the translation. When dance is taught without teaching about its history, significance, etc, it goes from being an art to recreation. I still remember all the times I would be saddened by the fact that dance is not considered an art, but recreation by so many of my peers.
But what does that mean for me? I can’t simply critique and not be active myself. If I believe that knowledge of these styles is dying then I took much educate myself in order to share the knowledge. I remember reading the little information that is available on the net about different Gujarati and Indian folk dances, but without seeing them the repetition of that information is not as effective as it can be.
But do I necessarily want to become a traditionalist? There is a beauty to how at the collegiate level, students have made traditional dances their own by meshing it with local cultural influences. More people are interested in dance because of this transformation. Where do you strike the balance?