Saturday night, the Eugene Concert Choir joined DJ Prashant Kakad in creating and presenting the new narrative performance “A Bollywood Dream.”
This visual and musical spectacular featured choral performances, Bollywood-inspired dance, and a plot so predictable and absurd that it would fit perfectly in some of the most beloved Hindi films. An enthusiastic audience at the Hult Center frequently participated in clapping along and even dancing in the aisles throughout the evening.
The story took place right here in Eugene, with students and professors at the University of Oregon making up the main characters. There were some confusing aspects to the plot — such as that it was supposedly set in the mid-1990s but featured songs recorded in 2018 and modern remixes of classic Bollywood songs as well as an intriguing mixture of ’90s and contemporary clothing — but nothing too distracting.
The dance, choreographed by Kakad, was very high energy and entertaining, if a bit messy at times. The two leads, Brittany Newton and Suchit Kapur were both enchanting and entrancing. Together, they displayed chemistry and were confident leaders for the rest of their Bollywood Dream Dance Troupe. A highlight of the evening was an exciting presentation of an Indian-inspired remix of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” This song featured both familiar aspects of the original Jackson choreography as well as new elements introduced by Kakad.
The Eugene Concert Choir presented two choral arrangements of Indian ragas, Desh and Dwijavanthi, as well as three arrangements of A.R. Rahman songs, “Balleilakka,” “Qawwali,” and the infamous “Jai Ho!” The diction in these performances was a mess and almost all precision was lost in the space and amplification system. Sadly, these choral moments, with the exception of “Jai Ho!,” were some of the low points of the evening, as they did not benefit from the energy inherent in the dance performances that made up the bulk of the show.
The true saving grace of these choral performances was tabla player Ankush Vimawala. Vimawala was poised and graceful, all while delivering incredibly complicated and exact rhythms. His solo at the beginning of the soulful Dwijavanthi raga was absolutely breathtaking and inspired many an “ooh” and “aah” from the audience. Eugene is fortunate to have such a talented master living in the local community.
Another crowd favorite was the amazing assortment of Indian costumes that were worn by the choir and dancers. Conductor Diane Retallack herself sported a dazzling sparkling sari and was only overshadowed by the wedding garment worn by Newton in the final wedding scene.
The performance also showcased some of Eugene’s local Bhangra dance groups, choreographed by Sat Pavan Kaur Khalsa. The three groups were divided by age into a children’s group (called the Monkeys), an adult group and a teenage group. The choreography of each performance was lively and the teenage group was impressive in its precision.
“A Bollywood Dream” might have suffered in some of its execution, but it succeeded in awakening an interest in Indian dance, music and film within the Eugene audience. Hopefully more opportunities to explore this rich culture will become available soon!
Musicologist and soprano Alison Kaufman reviews classical performances for the Register-Guard.