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India's longest-running English-language play proves that Dance has the power to fracture, but also mend, relationships

Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘Dance Like a Man’ by Mahesh Dattani

Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like a Man was presented at the Jubilee Hall in Raffles Hotel on 30th August 2014, brought in by Teamwork Productions.

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Directed and produced by Lillete Dubey of movies Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Vanity Fair and Monsoon Wedding, Dance Like a Man tells the story of two ex-Bharathanatyam dancers, Jairaj (Vijay Crishna) and Ratna (Dubey), whose only daughter Lata (Suchitra Pillai) is about to embark on her own Bharathanatyam concert in the hopes of establishing herself as an upcoming dancer. As Lata gets engaged to her boyfriend (Joy Sengupta) and also has a successful concert, past secrets start to erupt that bring to light the conflicts and tragedy Jairaj and Ratna have faced in their past.

It is easy to see the draw of Dance Like a Man, which is labelled as India’s longest-running English play. Filled with witty one-liners and funny dialogue, it is also an exciting play as layers of the story unfold giving us more insight into the characters’ past and psyches.

Insightful and thoughtful, the story also has a twist one never really sees coming, hence when you hear the lines indicating the dramatic climax being uttered by one of the characters, you find yourself just as shocked and taken aback as the character those words were said to. Therein you realise the power of this play: to fully draw you into the climatic moment.

For a country where there is still deep prejudice and segregation between the North and South, this Indian play is indeed refreshing as the main theme of Bharathanatyam is a South Indian dance, yet Jairaj is a North Indian who not only takes up the dance but is also married to Ratna, who’s a South Indian but played by Dubey who’s actually a North Indian Sindhi. To top it off, this play is written by Banglorean Dattani. You just have to love the integration of the North and South in this tale.

The only concern I had was that Pillai is clearly not a Bharathanatyam dancer (or a very bad one) and her dance segments are just not good, with her limp mudras (hand gestures) and weak adavus (footwork). Thus it is quite unconvincing and unbelievable that Pillai’s Lata was supposed to be a dancer on the brink of becoming a star. If Pillai is unable to deliver the Bharathanatyam pieces, either another dancer should have done it in silhouette, or the segment should have been axed altogether.

Having said that, the production was brilliantly directed by Dubey who used the small stage and static set effectively, as Pillai and Sengupta also played the younger Ratna and Jairaj respectively, and the story vacillated between two time frames at various points.

This production was entertaining and the acting was good, and Dance Like a Man proves that Dance has the power to fracture, but also mend, relationships.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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