Dhamaka interweaves serious and playful to a Bollywood beat

If the runaway success of Slumdog Millionaire left you hankering for more Bollywood, some of the College’s own had your fix: The talent of Dance Dhamaka’s troupe of dancing actors overflowed the ’62 Center’s MainStage last Friday and Saturday evenings. Though they also explored serious issues, Dhamaka kept the overall tone of their performance less like an Indian Charles Dickens story and more like the Oscar‑winning Slumdog dance number Jai Ho.

The stage, with its enormous and colorful backdrop, served those in attendance with a vibrant feast for the eyes. As a vehicle to connect each dance routine, the troupe used a comedy‑drama play co-written by Catherine Small ’09 and her sister, Marissa. The protagonist, one exasperated tabloid reporter named Alma Sule, played by Catherine, is sent on an assignment by her golfing boss to do undercover research on the “secret dance cult” of the famous Bollywood Center for Dance. Audience comments and laughter peppered the lighthearted story that reflected several issues common to Williams students: dorm life, leaving cities and “having only the cows” to talk to.

The musical numbers ranged from the breathtaking to the electrifying. Koi Kahe Kehta Raye, choreographed by Cassie Bagay ’10 (who portrayed Alma’s lovably saucy smoker roommate Sarala), had dancers dressed in pajamas and holding stuffed animals to a fast‑paced beat from the modern Indian music scene. Claps, waves and of course marvelous footwork were the order of the night.

My personal favorite, Ho Jayegi Balle Balle, even had Dhamaka students under a disco ball. The intricate routine Maahi Ve, which took place during a wedding scene, spilled out into the stands of the theater and incorporated fancy scarf and footwork. Some songs cast a more solemn and formal tone, relying on traditional Indian garb, while others relied on rhythms created from sticks known as dandias and synchronized jumping. Framing arms, spins and twists made the formation of people appear as one elegant entity. Many dances were sensuous and sharply coordinated, letting each individual retain his or her personality while in a cohesive whole.

Several serious themes were included alongside the lightheartedness. Shara Singh ’12 played the overbearing and critical mother of Leena, the snooty character played by Dalena Frost ’09. The exchanges between the two touched on every kind of confrontation with a parent a kid can imagine, particularly those in which a well‑meaning adult tries to live vicariously through their child. Leena, to fit this mold, becomes severely bulimic and isolates herself from her peers at school. As Sarala said, “Dancing should be fun,” but Leena takes time to accept this in the face of her issues.

In a total shift in tone, two troupe members interjected with readings of real-life stories about struggles with body image. Behind the veneer of energetic movement rested heart-wrenching tales of fear and shaken self‑esteem. Coming on the tail end of National Eating Disorders Awareness Month, the sharing of these stories from graceful young men and women spoke in the hopes that no one should be afraid to confront the same dilemmas in life.

The humorous, innuendo‑filled performance would not have had half of its impact if the dancers had not been having fun. All smiles, they captured several nuances of mainstream Indian entertainment. The costumes ranged from sleepwear to traditional saris, shimmering and swirling skirts and bared midriffs. A breathless Singh afterwards confirmed what I already knew: “We love dancing, we love tech, we love practicing!”

By the performance’s end, every issue was resolved. Almas revealed her reporter motive to her new friends, learned to dance more easily and quit her tabloid job. Leena confronted her mother by ceasing her bulimic habits and allowed herself to form normal relationships. Even Sarala tries to quit smoking. The fairytale ending among whirls and sashays was an enjoyable escape from midterm frenzy.