By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Dance Like A Man,” presented by ACT Theater in collaboration with Seattle Pratidhwani organization, opened with dancing, although, oddly enough, not any dancing included in the play’s script. Joyce Paul Siamak of Arpan Performing Arts, performed two solo dances, one before each of the play’s two acts; and introduced two dances, one before each act, performed by two of her students, Nisha Theta and Akshata Aravind. Ms. Theta and Ms. Aravind performed more abstract dances, devoted to choreography and intricacy, but not telling any particular story.
Ms. Siamak’s own dances told stories, and she was courteous enough to explain what many of her moves would mean, beforehand. She danced stories of desire, jealously, betrayal, and rage—amongst gods, who, according to these stories at least, are no strangers to human passions and human weaknesses. I followed her eyes and fingers the most, but she commanded each tale pass up and down her entire form.
And the Arpan dancers made an important difference to the evening, since the play itself–written by Mahesh Dattani, a leading Indian playwright and filmmaker—oddly enough shows very little dancing. It is a story of people’s lives defined by dancing, specifically the Bharathanatyam style administered over, in the heavenly realms at least, by Lord Shiva.
Keeping the dance, during the play’s action at least, offstage, allows the action to concentrate on the people. It starts with two young people, Lata (Tanvee Kale) and her fiancé Viswas (Jay Athalye) as they prepare to meet her parents, two lifelong Bharathanatyam dancers. As the young couple banter and Viswas works through his nervousness at meeting his future in-laws, we come to understand that the parents’ apartment itself, designed for the stage by David Hsieh, is itself a character in the narrative. It has a history. It was in peril at one point. It’s been modified to suit someone’s desires. But none of this is apparent in the early going.
And that reflects on the whole story, where with the possible exception of the affable Viswas, every character on stage has cards s/he isn’t showing. Lata’s parents, Ratna (Meenakshi Rishi) and her husband Jairaj (Abhijeet Rane) arrive home so caught up in their own drama, they talk right past Viswas for some time. Later we’ll learn what they’re facing, but that turns out to be only the latest episode in a long-running family saga of pride, jealousy, miscommunication, worry, and tragedy.
The four actors play out several generations onstage, and they always cue in to each other, reacting visibly but with the decorum that Indian manners demand. Fathers and mothers sometimes hurt their children, but the script makes it clear where they are coming from and how they always, however astringently, have their offspring’s best interest in mind.
Bharathanatyam’s own nature also plays a part. How many consider it unmanly, hence the preponderance of women dancers, at the expense of male dancers, even talented ones. How the dance is associated with prostitution. How male dancers sometimes dress up as females. Through the two acts, what it is to be a “man” comes up for questioning. What does a man do?
What must he not do? How does he go forth in the world?
The cast, the crew, and the director, Agastya Kohli, of Pratidhwani itself, along with, don’t forget, Ms. Siamak and her students, bring this bracing and insightful look into lives and emotions to vivid realization. The Indian members of the audience sometimes chuckled at cultural points I couldn’t quite get. Thanks to the above, though, I am confident I got all of the important points. (end)
“Dance Like A Man” plays through August 9th at the ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street in Seattle. For ticket prices, showtimes, and more information, visit http://www.acttheatre.org/Tickets/OnStage/DanceLikeaMan.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.