The performance of Nrityageet
25 at the Cultural Centre last weekend was a worthy tribute to
the two occasions that it celebrated. This renewal of the annual
production was somewhat special because it was the 25th anniversary
of a dance programme that is not only a fixture on the Guyanese
cultural calendar, but has earned the status of a tradition. The
quality and impact of last week's performance confirmed its present
stature as well as the production's suitability as a programme
to celebrate the other anniversary: the first arrival of Indians
from the East to the shores of Guyana on May 5, 1838.
While the show over the years
has not always reached the same high standard of this most recent
performance, its overall rating is respectably high, and it marks
a commendable achievement for its producers, particularly given
the fact that the two principal choreographers/dancers live overseas.
Nrityageet is produced and performed by Nadira and Indranie Shah
Dance Troup, and the two sisters after whom it is named, Nadira
Shah Berry and Indranie Shah Lennartson make an annual pilgrimage
to Guyana for the shows.
They are co-founders of Nrityageet,
along with sister Seeta Shah Mohamed and mother Bhanmattie Shah.
The full production team comprises six members in all when Rajendra
Shah and the youngest member, Suzanne Shah Mohamed are included,
completing a group that represents three generations of the Shah
It is a household already known
for production and entrepreneurship in the theatre, since Cyril
Shah as producer and promoter was a major contributor to the development
and career of The Mighty Sparrow who became the best calypsonian
the world has yet known. For Nrityageet, Rajendra Shah is a producer,
dancer and music coordinator, while Bhanmattie Shah, a co-founder,
is responsible for costumes.
Suzanne Mohamed grew up with Nrityageet
as an apprentice in dance, receiving training at Guyana's National
School of Dance as well as in Barbados and Sweden. She emerged
as a prominent dancer/soloist in the troupe and is now one of
its choreographers. Although, up to this point, she is best known
for a number of remarkable solo performances and lead parts in
the work of previous choreographers, she choreographed Jai Maa,
jointly with Nadira Berry, and Butterfly, two of the better pieces
in Nrityageet 25.
This, the latest production in
the long, very well-sustained series was directed by Seeta Shah
Mohamed, co-founder and director. Many of the choreographies were
performed on a very effective, colourful set, designed by Mrs
Mohamed, sometimes appropriated to the concept of the dance, at
other times basically functional or merely a fashionably pretty
backdrop for filmi or disco performances. She is the show's manager
and publicist, but has also made other artistic contributions
as director, researcher and workshop coordinator for the troupe
during the year. She has acknowledged a debt to director and academic
John Rollins for some valuable training received in theatre, which
she has used for the benefit of Nrityageet.
Indranie Shah, as has been the
case for many years, was one of the major dancers and choreographers
in the anniversary production. She was responsible for Shiva Vandana,
which set the tone for the show, having taken its theme from the
Divine place of Lord Shiva, the most important 'dancer' in the
Hindu universe. Indranie also teamed up with Nadira as dancers
in Dafli Wali, which was among the most outstanding pieces in
the show. It was the work of an artist who, since starting Nrityageet,
has deepened her expertise and experience through further training
in India and a company of her own in Sweden.
The Nrityageet tradition has also
had a symbiotic existence with Nadira Shah. It launched her career
and brought her to prominence while she, in turn, has brought
back to its development, the considerable experience and achievements
she has gained since. As artistic director, main dancer and choreographer,
she has earned a reputation as one of the leading personalities
in Guyanese dance while building a career as tutor in her school
in Barbados, a career she aims to continue in the USA.
Again, as she has been in previous
years, Nadira has been associated with the most outstanding items
in Nrityageet 25, including Khajaraho, Jai Maa and Dafli Wali.
On a previous occasion, she produced a dance based on research
into erotic images from ancient Hindu temples, and Khajaraho is
a continuation of that theme. It is an exploration of the sculpture
found in temples in India, whose forms are sexual and vivid, depicting
the life energy. The result was an extremely creative thought-
provoking exhibition with the potential of being the most memorable
item in the production. The trouble is, its strongest points became
its weakest. Understandably, the lighting was subtle and containing
the tones for appropriate atmosphere. But all the beautiful work
comes to nought if the audience cannot see the dance, and that
was almost the case here, because the lighting was too dim and
the stage too dark.
This kind of investigation into
culture and dance, however, is one of the things Nrityageet has
come to be known for since it began to develop seriously. The
anniversary performance reflected this, a factor which is consistent
with its celebration of 166 years of the Indian presence in Guyana.
Like many other choreographies in this and previous shows, Khajaraho
was inspired by research into Hindu cosmology and Nrityageet has
always reflected Indian classical and folk dance as well as forms
influenced by Indian art or culture. The repertoir of the Nadira
and Indranie Shah Troupe has widened to include a range of modern,
interpretive and popular dance, as was seen in this show.
Prominent on stage were the filmi
items as well as a highly proficient popular duet danced to country
and western music. Those that made a lasting impression were the
ones with some conceptual depth such as the very spectacular Jai
Maa, Butterfly, Dafli Wali and, of course, Khajaraho. Nadira and
Indranie displayed their best in Dafli Wali, which defined the
show in many ways. The teamwork was excellent with two performers
complementing each other. It had the qualities of the other very
good works including the brilliant costuming, hallmark of Mrs
many choreographers also included Abigail Allen, Rewattie Datt,
Asha Bjorkman and Walter Berry. This underlined the variety which
was to be found in the show, which, in its own way, traced some
development in dance locally including the input of the immigrant
Indian culture and its contact with other traditions. The varied
programme included chutney, gospel and a lively number to the
patriotic Guyanese song ArrowHead with its bright images of the
In these ways, Nrityageet 25 contributed
to a demonstration of dance reflecting the upkeep of Indian traditions.
However, like the Indian Arrival
Day to which it pays tribute, its items, its significance and
its interests far transcend those ethnic boundaries and has much
wider national importance as an historical event in nation-building.
Similarly, this dance production exhibited the dance and music
traditions that developed in Guyana after May 5, 1838, with and
without Indian influence.
It also drew on the dance traditions
of the world. While upkeeping some of the developments in contemporary
dance over the 25 years of its existence, Nrityageet has itself
become a tradition.
[Editor's Note: All credits to the
author and Stabroek News.]