“Mystic India” at Proctors should have been titled “Modern India.”
The Friday night show was billed as a journey through the ages in a country where music and dance traditions are revered. However, “Mystic India” was a non-stop, visual assault in which 22 dancers bounced, skipped and spun at warp speed for 90 minutes.
Needless to say, it was not only exhausting for the dancers, but the audience, too. With no intermission and only one segment that demonstrated the calm precision of classical Indian dance, the show was a blinding and deafening explosion of club dancing.
Choreographed by Amit Shah, “Mystic India” was narrated by an unnamed ringmaster (no names except for the choreographers were provided). He told tales of ancient gods, kings and festivals while a smoke machine was primed to fog the stage. At that point, the expectation was to reel back to a time when India was shaping and stroking its beautiful and colorful culture. But alas, when he stepped off stage, the dancers rushed the floor, flexing and flying into a bizarre combination of hip-hop, modern dance, and natya, laced with a heavy dose of disco.
Granted, the show was meant as an ode to Bollywood, staged in a way to make it palatable for American audiences. Many of the tunes were from Bollywood movies. As the dancers lip-synched the lyrics, the Indians in the audience sang along.
Of course, in Bollywood films, the dancers and singers are superbly pitched, performing in military synchronicity. This group was hardly together. In most numbers, of which there were at least two dozen, the ensemble was sloppy.
Odder still was the makeup of the troupe. Most were not Indian. Considering how much hip-hop dancing was infused into the show, many of the dancers were likely Americans.
All the costume trappings were there, however. The men wore Nehru jackets and ballooning pants, while the women appeared in sequined veils, mid-riff tops and colorful skirts. While the clothing was vibrant, it didn’t carry the richness and weight of most Indian dance attire. As they were moving so quickly, heavy, embellished and folded fabrics were out of the question.
As the night raced along, the dancing grew more and more like that seen in a nightclub. The wobbly heads, the splayed and carefully placed fingers and the deep squats faded until they disappeared completely. Near the end, the men marched out in white suits that glowed under the dimmed lights. At that point, “Mystic India” was transformed into a Michael Jackson tribute.
The world is shrinking, so perhaps this is what India is made of today. The flowering, sweet love scenes of Bollywood have given way to a mob of dancers who rush through an insanely aerobic relay.
For those who long for the modest temple arts of old, “Mystic India” must have been an unfortunate surprise. Yet for those who love a heart-pounding rush, “Mystic India” satiated.