Dhoti Dancing colors stage with visual splendor

Dance Dhamaka’s Saturday night performance, titled Dhoti Dancing, integrated dance numbers and acting scenes into a modern, Bollywood-flavored interpretation of the well-known Dirty Dancing. Though the disparity between the dances and the story was somewhat confusing at first, after grasping the style of the show I relaxed and began to appreciate its inimitable approach to the performing arts. The dancers’ wide grins were reciprocated by enthusiastic cheers. The audience’s willingness to make the performance interactive reflected the performers’ light-hearted treatment of the story.

The student-run dance group distinguishes itself from other groups on campus with costumes and traditional Indian-style dance moves. Bright colors, jingling bangles and flowing skirts created a fun, energetic mood last Saturday night. Percussion sticks and electric candles accessorized a few dances for greater theatrical effect. The dynamic dance moves, including body rolls few of us would dare attempt, were especially impressive.

Dance Dhamaka evidenced a more sophisticated humor with the keen adaptation of a 1960s American story, recast in modern India and modified for a more family-friendly audience (e.g. hernia instead of accidental pregnancy). Members of the dance ensemble borrowed a few lines and the general idea from the original 1987 Dirty Dancing film, but the script was their own creation.
In between dance numbers a few members of the ensemble would act out the essential parts of the Dhoti Dancing story. The amiable ingénue, Baby, played by Cassie Bagay ’10, befriends employees of the upscale hotel her family is staying at during vacation. Baby volunteers to substitute for an injured dancer in an upcoming show, and quickly falls in love with Johnny (Deonarine Soogrim ’12), the well-liked dance teacher at the hotel.

The acting in some of the scenes was awkward; conversations felt obviously staged and lacked a sense of natural rhythm and credible intonation. To the credit of the directors, one of the group’s greatest attributes stemmed from this weakness. Dance Dhamaka’s sense of humor often shone through in the least realistic dialogues. Baby’s ditzy “OK!” was rarely the appropriate response to her peers’ somber comments, but it effectively amused audiences and exaggerated her character’s naiveté.

The performance elicited laughter with a few other tactics, ranging from forced slapstick moments to witty one-liners. It was a little too silly when Christina Adelakun ’13 ran into a scene in the College’s purple cow mascot costume, but I appreciated the comedic effect nonetheless. Additionally, Johnny and Baby didn’t have enough chemistry to make their quickly developing romance believable. Their relationship seemed to jump from mutual platonic affection to intense, passionate love without much of the “rising action” middle stage.

Despite a few moments of amateur acting, Dance Dhamaka demonstrated some praise-worthy talent. Seth Tobolsky ’13 gave a few believable, emphatic speeches as Baby’s concerned father. His fake Indian accent provoked chuckles for the wrong reasons, but it didn’t detract from his merit as an actor.

The only disconcerting aspect of Dhoti Dancing was the inconsistency between a clever script with a believable storyline and some legitimate acting muddled by some poorly delivered lines and a funny, mocking portrayal of characters like Baby. It wasn’t clear when scenes were supposed to funny or were just unsuccessfully striving for a different, usually more serious, sentiment.

The mélange of passionate tirades, beautiful dancing and awkward conversation was interrupted once when the performance stopped and two cast members came to the edge of the stage to discuss Unite for Sight, the charity for which Dance Dhamaka was collecting donations. Unite for Sight helps provide eye care to people who can’t afford it, and hopes to reduce the number of people who are needlessly blind due to a lack of resources.

Their somber message was subtly related to the story presented. Though Johnny and Baby’s relationship is not a global concern, the theme of class divisions and inaccessibility to opportunities was apparent in the play as well as in the performers’ presentation about Unite for Sight.

Dhoti Dancing effectively combined dancing and acting to create a multigenre show. I was initially surprised the dances were not representative of the story. They had nothing to do with the dialogue that proceeded or succeeded them. Nevertheless, the plot’s continuity was maintained because the story was interrupted at logical places, so the dances served almost as commercial breaks. That said, the dancing definitely outperformed the acting. Additionally, each dance emitted a different vibe; the lack of connection among the numbers avoided the potential confusion of two intermingled stories.

The dancing is the fundamental part of their group, but the modified story that unfolded during the show set Dance Dhamaka apart from other more typical dance companies.