Pratham: The Mania Behind the Magic

We were excited to partner with Pratham again this year for their annual banquet; a great event for an important cause. The chief guest was the beautiful Bollywood actress, Amrita Rao, and it was great to have the opportunity to dance with her.

Pratham had specifically requested we perform our Michael Jackson Act as well the “Khuda Jaane” duet from our  repertoire. In addition, we added some of our favorite pieces to create a vibrant and entertaining medley of explosive songs.  Since we had the opportunity to do a finale dance with Amrita Rao, we picked “Chale Jaise Hawaiyen” from  “Main Hoon Na,” a movie in which she is truly unforgettable. We had  some apprehensions  about how our rehearsal with her would go as we were told that her schedule was very tight and she wouldn’t be able to spare much time.

We were pleasantly surprised and delighted when Amrita walked into our Thursday rehearsal, and immediately came across as  being so open and friendly. She asked each and every dancer their name and greeted them. She was fun, relaxed and pulled off the steps with great ease and finesse. We asked her to try a lift with the boys once, but she confidently said she would do it directly when we ran the entire piece to music!  We were not sure whether to be encouraged or intimidated by her faith in us! She seemed genuinely happy to work with us and we were awed by her grace…even more so as  she danced  in four-inch high stiletto heels.

The rehearsal with Amrita was flawless but the technical and costume rehearsal were another story altogether. The costume rehearsal went by ‘fairly’ smoothly. The dancers were briefed on the details of the various changes between acts and also in the middle of acts.  Numerous things to take mental notes on and execute… change tights, replace hand accessories, fasten skirts in a way to make the next change easier, change from white socks to black ones, put on earrings en route to being on standby in the wings, re-ponytail hair – dressing and changing in a particular order to make sure the troupe not only made it on stage in time for entries but did so  looking fabulous and neat!

Then came the technical rehearsal on the day of the show, by which we should have been completely ready for the event. However, there were Michael Jackson hats ROLLING on the floor because they were too loose, a mylar screen threatening to COLLAPSE on the dancers which two people were assigned just to HOLD it in place, even after it was moved off stage! The wheels of a stage riser were not locking, so when our dancer, Joya, began dancing on it it started MOVING. Then the riser was placed OFF CENTER to account for the movement and finally it refused to FIT in the wings. We did a full run through of the Michael Jackson act 3 times!

The Bollywood act rehearsal was next.  The fan props were collapsing (as was our dancer Brian’s shoulder) and somehow we got through it. Then we had to do it all over again because the ugly fake plants which flanked the sides of stage seemed to suddenly be impacting the  visual of the piece – and had to be removed IMMEDIATELY! By the time we finished the second run some of the dancers were discussing retirement.

After a break (during which some dancers ran off to teach class!) – show prep was fully underway! Dancers were getting their makeup done, taking naps, fixing the fans so they don’t collapse and last minute adjustments to the hats to ensure they don’t fall off. The greenroom was covered with hair curlers and hair spray, glue guns, sponges, dowels, tape. We could have opened a small store with all our paraphernalia!

SHOW TIME!  We went on stage and we were ALIVE, present, electric. There is a superstition that if technical rehearsal isn’t great…the show is fabulous.

From Michael Jackson to Bollywood…the acts were performed without a glitch! The energy was palpable and the audience was responsive, intrigued, elated. And then to have Amrita Rao dance join the dancers was the perfect end to an amazing performance (this couldn’t have been more obvious as some of the boys in the troupe had ridiculous grins on their faces!). Amrita pretended for a few seconds as she walked on stage to be completely CLUELESS. The finale, afterall, was a surprise for the audience – no one knew she would be joining the company on stage. But as the female lyrics in the song began, her expression changed from mock confusion to complete confidence and she OWNED the stage. It was great to see her in action and have the honor of sharing the stage with her.

Here is what Rohini and Suneil Parulekar, Pratham board members, had to say after watching the show:

“You all did an outstanding performance…at the Pratham gala. This was the BEST we have ever seen from anybody, including [other] Bollywood [dance companies]. It was truly uplifting.”

In the end, despite the mania, the MAGIC prevailed!


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