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Borders between different media of performing arts erasing: Mayuri Upadhya

Borders between different media of performing arts erasing: Mayuri Upadhya
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Borders between the different mediums of performing arts are erasing, believes Mayuri Upadhya who has choreographed Feroz Abbas Khan’s romantic...

Borders between the different mediums of performing arts are erasing, believes Mayuri Upadhya who has choreographed Feroz Abbas Khan's romantic musical "Raunaq & Jassi" which is set to make a grand debut in Delhi soon.

Upadhya has choreographed 19 dancers who will be seen performing foot-tapping Punjabi folk dance for the Delhi edition.

The Hindi musical is inspired by William Shakespeare's romantic classic 'Romeo & Juliet' and celebrates love that transcends all barriers and boundaries.

In a conversation, Upadhya shares more about the play, her experience of working with theatre director, screenwriter and film maker and her love for dance. Read excerpts:

Which dance style is predominantly used in "Raunaq & Jassi"?

Upadhya: The dance forms used are primarily folk dance forms. There is a variety of them, even though the most popular form is Bhangra. We've used a lot of variations within the folk dance forms from Gidda, Jhoomar, Luddi and a bit of Jaago as well.

For the fight sequences, we've used a lot of body rhythms, inspiration from martial arts and we also conducted tasks to create movement material. One song in "Raunaq & Jassi" takes a lot of inspiration from contemporary Indian dance.

It takes inspiration from the tradition of Sufism as well which has the practice of taking a lot of Sufi Kathak chakkars. In teaching the Punjabi Folk Dance form, I used the expertise of Manvindar Pal Singh.

How difficult or easy is it with the actors?

Upadhya: The borders between the different mediums of performing arts are erasing. For me, some of the dancers are very fine actors, some of the musicians can move, some of the actors can dance so these are all the skills which one acquires if they are interested in stage.

Especially for this musical, I think all the young actors with whom I had to create fight sequences for, they are all trained from NSD. Physical Theatre and Dance are the elements which were not alien to their bodies.

They didn't have to dance, but understand the movement, rhythm, and speed. The more interested and absorbed they were, the better performer it would make them. I had a lot of fun working with the actors. I think they enjoyed creating the material too.

Can you elaborate on your association with Khan? How is choreography set keeping all briefs in mind?

Upadhya: Feroz Sir and I have worked on three projects so far starting with "Mughal E Azam." He is not just a director that I look up to, he is a very special and inspiring part of my life. I think whether he creates a piece of film or theatre, there is an evident signature Feroz Abbas Khan style to it.

There is his "chaap" on it and it's extremely classy. I am grateful that he calls me every time to collaborate with him on his projects. His vision is larger than life.

The vision is so clear in his mind. He might not tell it out to other people but in his mind, the jigsaw puzzle is already a bigger picture as it comes together.

He gives a lot of importance to details and being authentic is important to him. So whether it is "Mughal E Azam" where Kathak was used or whether it is "Raunaq & Jassi" where folk dance forms were used, he has been extremely truthful to the art forms without messing with its grammar. So we've tried to be as pure as possible.

Out of all the projects with him, this one has been the toughest for me. It was very challenging because Sir drew a box within which I had to improvise. There were very clear borders defined within which I had to work. With the grammar of folk dance, there is not much variety.

There are very few steps and there are a few variations within that and using only those, we had to still create something very different.

Any challenges faced?

Upadhya: Time was a huge limitation. Running against deadlines adds a lot of pressure to creativity. So one thing is to make the dancers dance next to each other and the other is to create a sense of synergy while making them believe in the larger vision.

For me, it's important to build a team that belongs together, that enjoys each other's presence, that believes in the story and that brings out the rasa onto the audience.

Do plays allow you to experiment or do you have to stick to the plan?

Upadhya: This is a relative question as it depends on the director and the story that one picks. Musicals like these are all smaller elements of the larger picture.

The story is the hero so we have to make sure that we do justice to that whether it's the music department, costume department or dance department.

We are all elements that are bringing alive and adding value to the voice that Mr. Feroz Abbas Khan the director is trying to tell the audience.

We all have ways of highlighting the same thing, but yes it is a creative method so experimentation within specifications are always there.

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