Review: Amazing India, Dunstan Playhouse

A night of colour and enthusiasm.
Review: Amazing India, Dunstan Playhouse

Amazing India 2019 at the Adelaide Festival Centre.

The Adelaide Festival Centre was abuzz with a refreshing, dazzling, multicultural audience awaiting entry to Amazing India 2019 at the Dunstan Playhouse, presented by Kalalaya School of Indian Performing Arts and Adelaide Festival Centre.

Once inside the auditorium the audience was greeted with a huge white material screen that masked the rear of a bare, black stage. As we took our seats the screen switched between sponsor advertising and a slide of the Kalalaya logo.

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To begin the night, a well-spoken though uncharismatic Akhil Menon introduced a short, audio-visual retrospective of Kalalaya School, from the company’s beginnings in 2011 up until now. Long film-style credits followed the presentation, set to music, acknowledging all who have contributed to the evening ahead. Abruptly the sound track was cut and dimly lit prayers were performed, before dancing finally got underway as the audience settled in for a night of colour and enthusiasm.

Routine after routine unfolded, young women in red, blue and green; then costumes of primarily purple and gold, each new dance was a fresh mix of age and talent. Cast members were uniformly resplendent in bharatanatyam dance dress (a fantastic loose pant style with pleats between the knees that open beautifully when the dancer forms a particular posture), intricate head ornaments, ghungroo (musical anklets with metallic bells) and/or lehenga choli, which allowed for much luxurious, skirt swirling.

In one sense, the playing space was cleverly used; a 4m x 1.5m platform riser on wheels was manoeuvred on and off stage for each instrumental act. The dances comprised four to 15 participants, utilising the entirety of the floor for their sequences. The movement on and off, of this instrument-storing set piece allows for much needed floor space. It did, however, make for clunky, long changeovers through the showcase.

Accompanying the evening of dance and song were images projected onto the large screen at the rear. At first there were images of innocuous architectural and landscape photography which accentuated the theme of each dance or song.

During Mehbooba this worked magically well, disco-ball fireflies and coloured lights flickered and collided. As the evening wore on, thematic correlation between imagery and dance became more tenuous with elegant palatial interiors, a wet road at night, a field of blooming tulips, a bundle of fairy lights, and a Scottish castle. The sheer size of the screen made dancers diminutive; tiny figures in a black void of floor – something of an ocean between the colour, enthusiasm and us, their audience.  

Many, many costume changes and routines later, which included some wardrobe malfunctions (think bright, broken jewellery on the black floor), several endearing vocal duets between new lovers (extraordinarily talented pre-teens at the beginning of their musical journey) resplendent in traditional dress; some truly beloved Indian musical classics, a boisterous Bollywood hit, and our evening finally drew to an end.

Amazing India 2019 gave a lot to its audience. An extravagant showcase brought to life by inexperienced performers, from adult semi-professionals, through to self-conscious teens to tiny tots in adorably elaborate costumes. At over two hours sans interval, it asks a lot of its audience too. This is a proud evening out for families of those on stage; singing and dancing sweetly, without polish; filling a Saturday night with eclectic Indian dance and song.

2 ½ stars ★★☆
Amazing India 2019

Concept & Direction Ramesh Menon
Artistic Director & Associate Director Kalalaya
Choreography Priya Ramesh

6 April 2019
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

 

Emma Bedford

Friday 12 April, 2019

About the author

Emma Bedford is a writer, professional audio describer, and general life enthusiast. Emma is also a production manager for theatre, festivals and major events.