Everything I thought I would write for this blog piece fell out the window and scattered about the 880 freeway as I drove home from Technical Rehearsal the day before the Fall Showcase. I’d planned to write about the company dancers, had been shadowing them for months, but that day at Tech, it really hit me: the Mona Khan Company Showcase is, above all, a group effort.
More than that, it’s a family affair. We’re all part of the family, whether we’re dancers, instructors, choreographer, volunteers, or audience members. We all have a specific role, a role that is essential to the overall running of the show, but the thing is, we’re all so focused on this role, we have no time to see what the others in our family are up to. Dancers practice their steps up to the last minute, mumbling under their breath, “O Radha teri hmmm-hmmm, o Radha, tera hmmm-hmmm,” volunteers seat students and audience members, first time parents reluctantly release their children to us, craning their necks across the auditorium to see if their precious bundle is okay, hungry, thirsty, alive, then bawl their eyes out when they see their children onstage for the first time.
As a long-time volunteer, I’ve seen it all, set up, take down, audience seating, backstage affairs, pre-and post-production. It only makes me even more incredulous of the incredible complexity of this bi-annual Bollywood extravaganza and it was this, this 360 degree view, that I knew I had to capture.
Because MKC is as open-minded as they get (how else can you incorporate Afro-Jazz and Acro-Yoga into a Bollywood showcase? Who else would think to Flamenco to “Jaati Hoon Main”?), I was able to approach them – at 8 am on showcase morning- and after letting me babble on about my half-formed idea, they simply gave me their blessing and sent me on my way.
Note: When I say 360 degrees, its’ not exactly accurate. Below is a 320 degree view of showcase. It does not capture the months of costume, choreo, and logistical preparations, the weeks of five hour rehearsals the company dancers put in beforehand, the endless work Mona, Chitra, and Amrita do. What you see below, while in-depth, is the final product of months of hard work and preparation.
All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the show.
The dressing room is buzzing with activity and energy. The company women have been here since 7 for hair and makeup. Men will arrive at 10.
Even at 8 am, they can look this happy.
Top secret info: 8:15 am, somewhere in the back of the auditorium, hunched over in the green hoodie is Amrita, with an assistant, glue-gunning what appears to be a last minute inspiration to be added to a costume. Mandatory? No. But it’s just this sort of attention to detail that makes her the company’s Creative Director and Co-Founder, and that allows us, the audience, a visual feast when the dancers take the stage.
Meanwhile, out in the auditorium, Mona, Chitra, and Shobana check details of a laser light setup.
The only way to move 1000+ students in and out of one space three times in one day is by having the organization of a NASA engineer.
Jayesh, the company’s videographer extraordinaire, sets up.
Because sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t create itself…
8:30 am: Quick huddle for company Founder and Artistic Director, Mona (R), and Operations Director, Chitra (L), always conferring, always touching base. (Sadly, this picture comes so close but doesn’t quite answer to the question we asked before the show, “Who is Mona?”. She remains a mysterious genius.)
9 am: Chabot Theater and MKC staff have a final tech talk.
9 am: Volunteer Lead, Surya, organizes his team…
While his co-lead, Lipica, checks her notes before dispatching the 45 volunteers.
The Chabot College theater team, with us from the beginning, helps to keep things running smoothly.
As students aged 3-80 + arrive, so do their family and friends. Over the years, MKC has figured out how to get everyone where they need to be on time- because this Bollywood show is authentic in every way except that it does not run on IST.
Volunteers help get people where they need to go…
When you’re a volunteer,
there’s so much to do,
to smile about,
whether outside or backstage.
9:30: Outside the auditorium, the excitement builds
as students, fully costumed, fully excited, find their friends.
From here on in, it’s nothing but smiles.
and maybe a quick student-teacher conference.
Students line up…
and check in.
Move over Shah Rukh.
Never dance on an empty stomach.
Merchandise co-ordinator, Janani, usually sells out much of the company apparel by Technical Rehearsals and does her best on showcase day. Still, for weeks afterwards, moans of disappointment ring in her ears, and a trail of obsessed fans follows her around asking, “Do you still have this one? Do you still have that one?”.
Top Secret Info #2: this isn’t a casual-stroll-in-a-farmer’s-market-and-oh-maybe-I’ll- buy-this-hemp-bracelet style window shopping, this is a Black-Friday-level-strategize-in-advance-know-what-you-want-and-get-there-on-day-one style mission.
Inside the auditorium, classes are seated together…
and the anticipation builds.
Master Bombay Jam Trainer, Janani, entertains the crowd before the show.
The only time in history Janani fails at a dance-related task: trying to dance badly.
As the show begins, classes are escorted one by one backstage to the green room, where any number of things take place:
Bacha Party, aged 3-5, come in safe and sound (for adults, choo-choo train is optional).
last minute adjustments are made,
instructors joke with their class to release tension.
Encouragement is given,
dance steps are revised,
and very important details are secured.
The music’s a little loud backstage.
Chinmay Express: proving one man can do it all. This guy was a company dancer, assistant instructor and guest star in Montre’s class, and danced in the Milpitas Adults Master Class.
If you’re an old pro at this dancing thing, you can spend your time in the green room chilling
like these Jeena parents,
or you could…
and there’s always…
Before taking the stage, you must
Top Secret Info # 3: Look at these pretty payal peeking out from beneath a company dancer’s outfit- Amrita and her love of details strikes again.
Before you know it, it’s time.
A lot happens in the wings:
As one group performs, the next waits in the wings, just off stage. These students are anxious about their own upcoming performance, but are also eager to watch the show from a different angle…
MKC instructor, Rekha, watches her students on a backstage monitor.
Company dancers, moments before going onstage.
Dancing since birth (or so it seems), the ever-ready Akhil awaits his cue.
It takes a lot of people to get the Bacha Party ready to perform (right before we all melt in our seats from the performance choreographed by instructor, Prapti, and assistant, Shivali).
but it’s worth it.
Seriously? Student costume manager,Heena’s choices are always cavity-inducing.
Bacha Emerging Performers have a full day, with three shows in one day, filled with quick costume changes,
and a little down time (parents, don’t worry, the iPad came out after the homework was completed).
Yeh dosti: you form strong ties at of MKC, making friends who will do anything for you.
BEP parent, Brad, is happy to help.
The best part of any show is this moment: students come off the stage, adrenalin still pumping from the high of performing, applause ringing in their ears, and are greeted by their ecstatic instructor for a quick celebration before returning to their seats.
Same goes for company performers, seen here analyzing their performance with hip hop choreographer, Shannon.
Before you know it, it’s all over, three shows in one day, and you’re taking your final bow.
You’re still pumped from performing,
happy at a job well done
and a little sad that it’s all over.
(psssst: it’s Mona, look quick before it’s too late, now shhhhh….top secret)
Flowers for all.
and just one more picture.
10 pm and some of us are still working.
Anyone lose a monkey?
10:15 pm: We’re finally going home…
10:30 pm: Most of us anyway.
It’s never too late to shop…
or too dark.
10:45 pm: countdown to next showcase begins.
Phiroozeh Romer is a writer, Bombay Jam instructor and a life-long devotee to Mona Khan Company. Check her out at phiroozeh.blogspot.com