By Danyel Poindexter, Staff Writer
Combining culture, music, and the modern world, Indian dancers graced the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center with their production “Taj Express: Bollywood Musical Revue” on March 31. Presented by Dance St. Louis, the musical features the vibrant colors and sounds of Bollywood that creatively venture into a different path from the tradition of both modern and old music. Formerly referred to as Hindi cinema, Bollywood is an appellation for India’s film industry that has focused on dance, storytelling, and explosive music. It is a term most often used by Westerners but since has become one of the largest film genres in India.
Narrated by Mikhail Sen, the musical opens with the story of an aspiring music composer named Shankar, who wants to make it big in the world and receives his first break by being assigned to create music for a brand new Bollywood movie, “Taj Express.”He struggles, however, to make a name for himself outside of the traditional Indian and Bollywood music scene. Through hard work and disappointing turnouts, Shankar realizes that the movie he has been assigned to represents his current troubling situation. “Taj Express” plays as the musical focus and typical Bollywood love story between two very different protagonists. Kareena Kaboom, played by Tanvi Patil, and Arjun, played by Hiten Shah, believe they come from two different worlds. Arjun rescues young people from the streets while Kareena wishes to be free from the pressures of being a celebrity in Bollywood.
Needless to say, the plot of this sub-story has little to do with the essence and quality brought in the overall musical. The sub-story dealt with a crazy rollercoaster of implausible outcomes, which the main story even comments on toward the end. The sub-story simply functions as a path to the main problem centering the musical: How was Shankar going to be different?
This is when an incredible creative combination of colors, expressive dance, and modern music takes the stage. With only a few slow songs, the musical’s prime focus appeared to be on hyping up the crowd. The opening of the musical introduces the Oscar-winning song “Jai Ho” from the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and continuously plays with well-known Bollywood movies and music. As the cast performs dance numbers, the audience was treated to live music by guitarist Chandan Raina, percussionist Anish Kale, and flautist Avadooth Phadke. The synchronization of flawless dance moves and high tempo music made this experience energizing and revitalizing. The audience was increasingly excited, some throwing themselves out of their chairs to sing along, others shouting from the balcony areas.
When the dance crew needed to change dress or needed a quick break, the narrator and guitarist took over the show with hilarious commentary, instrumental breaks, and lessons on new dance moves and breathing techniques. In other words, there was never a dull moment throughout the progression of this musical. The way these dancers could accomplish so many unique dance moves back-to-back, never faltering or immobilizing a synchronized dance, is quite stunning.
Integrating a national audience, the musical also united modern Western beats with modern and traditional Bollywood tempos, dance-line structure, and footstep arrangements. The substance of this performance never left the audience stale or irritated. The aggressive dance moves that offered spirited charm were just the right breath of fresh air for anyone who needed a nice night out and a great stress reliever. This captivating performance could easily have anyone in love with Bollywood if they were not already.