The First Rehearsal…
Being an avid reader and lover of English literature, I have always enjoyed reading Shakespeare plays and have acted in several of them in school and college; although never in a dance production. When I first heard about AMND and Anitas invitation to different dance schools, I thought this was a great opportunity for my students- and me. When I asked Anita if teachers could audition, she was very welcoming. The audition process and expectations were made clear in the initial emails, so there were no surprises. I was impressed with the manner in which scheduling was done for practice sessions, keeping in mind the different requirements of 40 dancers.
Excited all day long for the first session , and very curious about the music, choreography and whom I would be dancing with. Met with a lovely young dancer Kamya who plays Hermia. Anita gave us an overview of the scene, and the music was absolutely perfect for what she wanted to portray. Even though I had never worked with Anita or her students before, I felt very comfortable and part of the group. Anita has a very clear precise way of explaining what she is looking for, and how she has visualized each character. As we progressed through the sessions, Anita added to and improvised the choreography, trying to bring out our strengths and make our characters more real. I especially liked what Anita was telling some of the other dancers today ‘read the play, look at ballets and other videos of the story and try to incorporate a particular characteristic of the person you are playing.’
Although I am a traditionalist at heart, this production was too tempting for me to pass up. Not only was I going to enact Shakespeare through Indian classical dancing for the first time, but this also gives me an opportunity to look at and learn from a different teaching style, how another dance school/teacher works, how to ‘Indianize’ a story set in an entirely different country and culture, and most importantly, this gives me an opportunity to be a student yet again.
Third week and counting…
It is just our third week into practice and already so much has happened! The thillana is complete and looking good. We started working on the opening dance as well as the intermission dance. The music for the intermission dance is awesome. Hermia and Egius (your truly) have their work cut out, it is an emotional scene where the characters need to connect. Next week we are working on the forest scene, again waiting to see what Anita has planned. The practice sessions are so much fun,and we have two sentinels watching our every move (Soumini and Meera) which will make a huge difference in our performance. Lots of discussion on costumes this week,and I finally got my peacock feathers yay! The schedule is getting more and more full with practices but there is so much to do. Anita is handling the demands of the production superbly. Being a teacher myself,I understand the workload and multi-tasking involved. Looking forward to the weeks ahead.
Week four and here’s more!
Last week passed me like a roadrunner! we started with the forest scene with the 4 lovers and 3 animals, and a hilarious surprise. The scene seemed straightforward when Anita explained what she wanted, but when we got into it, coordination with the music took some work. Music for this scene is perfect for the forest and what’s being portrayed. We also worked on the pre-intermission dance, which is my most favorite dance so far. Dandia choreography is lovely, each group does something different and the song again is so catchy. I did not realize how much my five year old has absorbed my description of all the scenes , till one evening, he was trying to explain something and I completely misunderstood him and there was a big confusion. He smiled and said ‘mummy do you feel like you are in a midsummer nights dream?’
Half way through!
This week, we got quite a bit accomplished. The forest scene, intermission and opening dances are all done. It will be interesting to see how everything fits next week when Anita gets the scenes together. The anchor team is a delight to work with, enthusiastic teenagers who are working very hard and are so much fun. I also got a sneak preview of some of the other scenes, the dance between Oberon and Puck is beautiful, very well done. There is great chemistry between the two characters. Alisha is a seasoned performer with no inhibitions and that’s perfect for Puck, she is a natural. Like her mother, she is ready to try out suggestions from other dancers and changes things to suit her role even though her original ideas might be entirely different. Time is passing by really fast with all the practice sessions, I will miss being part of this team once AMND is done. Adios and see you next week!
This week we had run throughs of the full program and we got to see how much time we had to change costumes. I did not realize how fast time has flown by with so much going on. Stitching on the costumes is going to start soon, our opening dance costume colors are lovely. I got to see the fairy dance and it looks great. They were probably the best prepared group this week – lots of credit to the little ones. Adieu till next week.
This week was a rest week for me. It really helped since I did the bridgepedal event on Sunday , so it was nice to have a break. Met with Anita Mahendra and had a great time deciding costumes. Anita gave me some very good tips on hair and helped me work out the peacock costume, I think I’m all set! Happened to hear the music for the fight scene, its great. The fairy showcase video looked awesome, loved Shailas costume. Hope to see everyone on Sunday (India Day). I am performing a ghoomar dance with some lovely ladies at 6:30 pm. Looking forward to rehearsals next week.
Working with Shaila this week was a lot of fun and very useful. Shaila is so detail oriented and was very accommodating in meeting with me and going through the dances several times. Scheduling the full rehearsal was a good plan this week, there were many points that came up in each scene with we still have to fine tune. But the play is coming together and all the characters are getting more comfortable in their roles.
The countdown has begun!
This week was truly exciting. We rehearsed every evening and worked on the full show several times. Every scene is looking great. There is not a dull moment in the entire show. This can be attributed only to Anita’s fantastic choreography and music selection. I also got to learn from the organizing skills of Anita’s team. Anita Ramachandran is doing an amazing job with costumes, keeping track of orders, measurements, working individually with each cast member and patiently answering the same questions over and over again! Sowmini has taken over rehearsals and she is cool and collected, and so easy to work with. Meera Kanagal has a special talent of bonding with the younger members of the team and again helps to keep the entire cast on track in a calm way. A lot of work has also been put into organizing helpers for each participant backstage and they have minimized the number of volunteers, which I think really reduces chaos. My particular scene is finally falling into place. When we first started it seemed simple, but as we kept working on it, there were so many little details that came up. It has been a delight working with Kamya . I also heard many of the cast members say that they are waiting for Anita’s next production and they want to come back. And yes, this definitely includes me too!
Finally, the day we were all waiting for – Sept 8th! We got to the theatre well ahead and everyone was ready , high with excitement. Anita came and spoke to us before the show started and gave us a good pep talk. All the cast members looked wonderful in their outfits and so ready . Once we got done with the opening dance, I ran back in to change into Egius. Since we had done costume rehearsals the week before, everything went smoothly. After Egius, the peacock costume was more elaborate and we had to remember to get all the pieces on. The backstage organization (Anita Ramachandran) and group were exceptional. All the volunteers were so helpful with anything that the participants required. My special thanks to Rashmi, Chandrika, Anu for helping me with my numerous costume changes. When I stepped onto the stage in the peacock outfit along with the snake and deer , I could almost hear the audience exclaim in surprise and pleasure and my immediate thought was ‘this was a great idea of Anita, to have animals in the forest scene. ‘ the intermission dance was the most exciting of all, the music sounded great and the group danced with full energy.
During the second half, I got to relax for some time, and watch part of the show. Every scene was great, and all actors did a wonderful job. we all held our breath in the side wings when the Bangra group had to hold the final pose, but they did it with so much ease, it was fantastic. One of my duties was to help the little faries with their dress change, but they were so prepared, they really did not need much help at all. The breathless few minutes were getting Poorna out of the Oberon costume and into the Thillana outfit, then both of us running across to the other side of the stage and making it just on time when the music started. The adrenalin rush was exhilarating. At the end of the first show, we were all happy, and eating donuts thoughtfully brought by Meera Kanagal. The second show was a breeze, I did not notice the time go by at all. When it was over, and I was sitting in the car, being driven home by my husband and son, the events of the past few months just by in my minds eye, starting from the first email that Anit sent, and my tentative question ‘ are teachers allowed to participate ‘ , her encouraging reply , the auditions, first practice , meeting the teenagers who formed the anchor group, the excitement of the last weeks rehearsals with costumes and on stage and getting pictures with my fellow dancers after the show. I turned to my husband and said ‘ I wonder what Anita is going to do next year…’
After the show and lessons learnt
The compliments I got after the show were numerous. the most common phrase was ‘ the costumes were fantastic, who designed them?’ Puck was the most admired character and rightly so. One of the many things that were great about this show, was the casting. Every character had the right person doing that role. The choreography was kept simple and very clear . I think this was especially helpful a main part of the audience who had no knowledge or experience with Indian classical dancing. music selection was of course, wonderful. weaving in Shakespeare into the play was a stroke of genius. what a simple yet effective way to let everyone know what’s going on. Anita also kept whole play very authentic and she picked out little nuances, points in the elaborate dialogues and had them enacted. one scene where some friends were a little confused was the Bhangra (though I personally feel it was very clear with Scott coming out and shouting ‘let’s get back to the story’ . The organization was excellent all throughout. Starting from scheduling, to costume coordination, Shaila keeping people on track with emails, Sowmini calling the next set of dancers backstage in a calm manner, and all the volunteers knowing what they we supposed to do. There was no confusion at all. This was so professionally done, there is a lot to learn. I hope that Anita does many more productions in future and I would love to be a part of her programs , time and schedule permitting. I will miss the anchor group,such a lively team and talented youngsters. God bless and good luck, cast and crew of AMND.