Two Indian classics re-imagined
First on the program, Devdas (The Lover) is a feast of dancing and music, choreographed with originality and variety by Swarali Karulkar, and with exciting music by Aalap Desai. The dancing blends aspects of traditional Indian dancing with modern, contemporary pop, and ballet. With the use of photo projections, the set shifts from visions of romantic and exotic beauty to stunning images of bare practice halls. The costumes, too, blend contemporary western with a traditional Indian sense of intense color and shine. The stage is filled with dancing of high quality, filled with youthful energy and idealism. It all comes together in a joyous, spirit-lifting performance.
Devdas is based on a novel by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, written in Bengali in 1917. The plot is a complicated tale of love, rivalry, passion and loss and unless you know the story in advance, you won’t catch on to the narrative details through this dance performance but the emotional truths in the individual episodes come across.
This re-imagination transforms a rivalry among women for love of a man into a competition for “Best Dancer in India.” All the dancers in the program are professional and fine to watch: Adam Bourke as Mr X is exceptionally dynamic, and Sonia Mukerji as Paro gives us gorgeous glimpses of classical Indian dance. Swarali Karulkar, the choreographer, performing Chanda whose heart is set on winning the prize, is sensational.
Second on the program is Chokher Bali (The Passion Play), a drama adapted by Partha Chatterjee from Rabindranath Tagore’s novel, with musical direction by Shubhra Prakash and choreography by Rujuta Vaidya. The title means “sand in the eye,” that is, a constant irritant, referring to the rivalry of two women who become friends in the course of the play and rivals for the love of the same man.
The story is clear in Chokher Bali, even to the uninitiated, and the intermittent use of western pop music to convey emotional situations is effective. Generally, the play is diffuse and not strong on dramatic tension, and the acting is uneven.
Produced by the Hypokrit Theatre Company and Junoon Performing Arts, and playing at Theater for the New City through November 20, 2016, Devdas and Chokher Bali are each stand-alone productions and tickets can be purchased for each separately. They can also be seen together, as I saw them, with tickets for the two available at a special combined price. For more information, including performance schedules and tickets, click here.