An immersive dance experience “Shaadi” – reviewed

Buoyant and fun, Shaadi is an immersive Bollywood dance spectacular recently staged at L.A.’s iconic Heritage Square Museum. Deftly combining the joy of live dance theatre with audience interaction, and employing dance as a storytelling vehicle, Blue13 Dance Company welcomed the assembled audience to participate in and celebrate a trio of (semi) traditional Indian weddings, all staged on the private grounds and Victorian mansions of the Heritage Square Museum in the Montecito Heights neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles.

Pictured above: Blue13 Dance Company. Photo by Charlie Kaine

The event was devised by Blue13 Dance Company’s artistic director and choreographer Achinta S. McDaniel, who made excellent use of the historic open-air architecture museum for her site-specific and exquisitely crafted musical dance extravaganza.

Robert Gomez
Photo by Achinta S. McDaniel.

As Shaadi is Hindi for “wedding,” the dancers played members of the wedding party while the audience act as wedding guests, assembled to share in the happy celebration. Wine was flowing and the DJ was spinning tunes to get us all into the festive spirit.

As for all good Hindi movies, there are interwoven love stories, backstories, subplots, and villains, as well as three brides. The show began with a pre-wedding cocktail party outdoors in the central courtyard as the audience mingled with drinks in hand. The gathering was invaded by the boisterous wedding party of dancers. Almost immediately, some drama arose in the shape of a rival for one of the groom’s affections—the ex-lover.  

From there we follow the ceremony on the porches, and explore inside the historic mansions to witness scenes of personal drama taking place behind the scenes. A huge component of the fun-filled evening was that we each were able to choose our own adventure-style journey as it flowed throughout the mansions and gardens. We had the option of which characters in the story to follow, either one of the brides, the grooms, or even the rival ex.

While the romantic couplings do not all end as predicted, eventually three couples celebrate with the neighborhood and guests (us) to complete the story with a true Bollywood happy ending. The evening culminated in an upbeat Punjabi Wedding Song-type finale that surely satisfied even the most die-hard Bollywood fans.

Kirby Harrell and Joya Kazi
Photo by Charlie Kaine.

The highly energetic and theatrical piece was underpinned by the sensibilities of Bhangra, Kathak and Bollywood “story-telling” styles of choreography, judging by its classical and semi-classical Indian forms and gestures. But as a contemporary dance company, the work of this eclectic company is noticeably infused with modern and classical ballet, as well as jazz, tap, and hip-hop moves, reflecting the diversity of a vivacious company of predominantly Black and Brown dancers. Blue13 Dance associate artistic director Jon Paul assisted with the choreography.

The energetic troupe consisted of members of Blue13 Dance, as well as guest dancers including Anthony Arellano, Argia Brockway, Joya Kazi, Jacob Magana, Antonio Martinez, Monica Moskatow, and Svetlana Tulasi, plus USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance majors, Valerie Chen, Lindsay Lykins, Chase Peterson, William Okajima, Hayden Rivas, Atticus Dobbie.

Alisa Carreras, Antonio Martinez,
Jacquelyn Buckmaster-Wright, Robert Gomez
Photo by Achinta S. McDaniel.

Shaadi captures all the fanfare and excitement of a vibrant Indian wedding, with all the dancing, elaborate choreography, feverish planning and scheming, and of course the glamming up in colorful, flowing saris and formal sherwani (the long coat-like top typically worn by men). A nod to the Victorian setting can be seen in the parade of white hoop skirts worn by almost all of the dancers at one point.

Combining humor and profound emotion, Blue13 Dance Company’s rhythmic and electrifying work Shaadi breaks open the cultural stereotypes of Indian dance, drawing from its ancient traditions and from Bollywood movie musicals to communicate unforgettable stories.

To read my interview with Blue13 Dance Company’s artistic director and choreographer Achinta S. McDaniel, please go here.

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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