Spirit of India comes to Kingston

Indian dance group performs for a packed audience at The Grand Theatre

The Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers of India performed to a full house at The Grand Theatre on Wednesday night.
The Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers of India performed to a full house at The Grand Theatre on Wednesday night.
Credit: 
Bollywood Masala Orchestra

With stunning moves and jaw-dropping feats, Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers of India brought the rich dancing culture of India to downtown Kingston.

Appearing in front of a full house at The Grand Theatre on Wednesday evening, the dance and music performance group from India celebrated the rich tradition of North Indian and Rajasthani culture through music and dance.

Bollywood Masala Orchestra presents a new vision of Northern Indian music and dance, tracing a musical journey from Rajasthan to Mumbai. The company, comprised of 17 artists, musicians, vocalists, dancers and acrobats, is led by artistic director Rahis Bharti. 

The northwestern state of Rajasthan holds a rich tradition of art and culture grounded in folk culture from the surrounding villages. Traditional music and dance remain at the forefront of Rajasthani culture and is often used to communicate religious or devotional songs, heroic feats and love stories. 

Bharti, born in Rajasthan, India, comes from seven generations of musical legacy. Bharti is the founder, artistic director and tabla musician for the performance. Working alongside his three brothers and a tight-knit troupe of dancers from the Rajasthan community, they strive to present the beauty and intricacy of Indian culture to North American audiences. 

The performance combines the traditional and contemporary music of India. It incorporates Indian orchestral instruments like the tabla hand drum, the khartal and the shruti box. The khartal is a hand-held percussion instrument while the shruti box, an instrument related to the harmonium, produces a drone-like noise often associated with Indian music. The traditional North Indian instruments were accompanied by a Western-inspired brass band.  

Through a fusion of rich Indian tradition and a contemporary take on Bollywood film, Bollywood Masala Orchestra adapts a dynamic dance repertoire to an orchestra. Four female dancers executed timeless traditional dances, such as the Kalbeliya, a snake-charming dance that mimics the movements of the cobra through intricate hand movements and the bending of the back. The dancers also adapted choreography from beloved Bollywood films, such as Om Shanti Om, while the orchestra played renditions of Bollywood soundtracks. 

To complete the show, a Rajasthani “Dhoad Gypsy” balanced a clay pot atop his head while performing a feat of peril, dancing on a bed of nails and knives. His performance showcased the traditional Bhavai and Chari dance styles of Rajahstan. 

The traditional Bhavai and Chari dances held a powerful grasp on the audience. The audience was encouraged to take part, instructed in the language of the tabla and the mnemonic “bol” — a term used to describe the language of the tabla drum and corresponding spoken song. 

Clapping along and repeating the spoken bol language in unison with the orchestra, the audience embarked on their own journey through Northern India. 

The performers of Bollywood Masala Orchestra are known as cultural ambassadors of the Rajasthan in North India. 

“They have performed for the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, the President of France François Hollande, Queen Elizabeth at the Diamond Jubilee Celebration in London and even Mick Jagger,” Bharti said. 

The international reception to the performance has been positive, Bharti added.

“Everywhere we go we are happy to perform. This is our life. We share the joy, and the happiness, and we celebrate with the people,” Bharti said. 

In attendance was Kingston Immigration Partnerships facilitator Sunita Gupta, who spoke on the significance of hosting the event.

“Works such as this start to make people feel like they are part of the community and are able to share this sense of community with others,” Gupta said.

The troupe is on the final leg of their European and North American tour that will see them play 50 concerts in two months and 10 days across the USA and Canada. Following their Kingston performance, the tour will end with three sold out Toronto area dates this weekend.

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