Naya Zamana 19: The Royal Twist, directed and choreographed by Vindhya Persaud, continued the established practice of annual full dance productions by companies in Guyana with an emphatic statement. It demonstrated the spectacular heights achieved by the Nritya Sangh of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, not only in the celebration of its 19th annual production, but its prominent place as one of the foremost dance companies in the country with proven levels of high competence in the theatre.
Another point of interest in the rise of Naya Zamana, is how it illustrates the factor of religion in the development of Guyanese dance. Indian dance in Guyana has achieved and sustained development and wide popularity because of the way it has been a part of Hindu religious practice (secondarily, it rose with the filmi influence of Bollywood cinema). But the Dharmic Nritya Sangh, which performs Naya Zamana, grew into a full company of dancers as a cultural arm of the Guyana Dharmic Sabha. It has sustained an interest in Indian dance and is a prominent outfit in local dance theatre.
The Royal Twist was a good example of the levels of excellence of which they are capable. In the process Vindhya Persaud has created a novel and innovative form of theatre. There was a kind of quality in Naya Zamana 19 that is memorable. It managed a form that stood out and probably reached that standard after years of trials and experimentation. A series of different formats and storylines were used, including a version of the Bollywood film, even with a reflection of the Broadway musical. But the shows definitely took on more drama, evolving from a collection of dances, to a variety of dance and music, till it became dance drama with plots and themes.
The search for a formula settled down with a few shows of exceptional quality such as Ramlila and Bollywood Dreams. The shorter stage version of the Ramlila as developed by Tulsidas in India and as translated into Caribbean performance in Guyana and Trinidad was extraordinary. It was a brilliant dance drama and perhaps the best piece of theatre on stage that year. Then there was Bollywood Dreams whose strengths included the use of plot to make statements about self discovery and learning to become better humans. The heroine overcame disappointment, envy and bitterness to become a true and loyal friend and a better person. Similar brands of dramatisation added depth to The Royal Twist.
Dr Persaud has found a theatre with a resounding impact. It is decidedly popular, but has a form that contains some depth. In similar fashion to the earlier Bollywood simulations, there is a success story with dramatic resolutions. Characters learn. This continues in Royal Twist where a director Riya Patel played by Indhira Harry, strives to dramatise a tale of romance, love, tragedy and pathos from the ancient Moghul Empire. Her efforts end in stage success, but the resolution is not entirely clear. There is not that sublime elevation of character and satisfactory resolution as the heroine director ends up with the actor who played Prince Saleem in her drama. He comes over as a conceited, superficial Narcissus in love only with himself. He was a contrast to the noble prince prepared to give his life for the girl he loved whose role he acted and danced. A more rewarding picture was presented in the humility and sincerity – the true greatness of the real Prince Saleem who was right by her side. She only found out who he was at the end, but the intended catharsis, the satisfaction, at the end where the wandering soul of the prince finally found rest lacked conviction.
Nevertheless, Dr Harry as Riya worked with some vigour at the task presented by her role. It was well interpreted, including the very great sense of perplexity and confusion she showed at the end when she discovers the true identity of the Prince who reappeared from the past. The success of the actress here, highlighted the imperfection in the script.
However, in Naya Zamana 19 a theatre was created with strength and power to enhance its popular appeal. For Guyana it was an interesting development in form for dance theatre. It contained all the best characteristics of Indian dance theatre, and Eastern theatre on the whole. Bold colour and elaborate designs were used to emphasize the characteristic spectacle of this theatre. The set was always effective to reproduce atmosphere, and the presentation contained movement, romance and conflict. There were power and assuredness in the lighting, sound and costuming.
Trishala Simantini Persaud was responsible for the costuming which was a major work of appropriate design, thoroughness of detail and characterisation. She paid close attention to all sections of the very extensive cast of dancers as well as to the lead acting roles. It was very realistic although the overall text included a bit of symbolism and ritual.
This intricate display of Trishala Persaud’s costuming, the spectacle of set design and use of stage was best exemplified at the beginning of Act Two. There was the use of levels for a multifaceted effect as well as to separate the dancers and give an impression of the grandeur of the palace. This also served dramatic interest as there was an appropriate focus on the court dancer Anarkali, Prince Saleem’s sweetheart and the tragic heroine of the piece. Zahrah Alli performed that role with grace, charm and captivating sensitivity, including the use of ritual and symbol that subtly advanced the plot. It was one of the best moments of the dancer and of the production.
Throughout, the performance of Nazim Hussain as the Emperor Akbar was convincing with the right projection of imperial command. The scenes were played out with effective studies of dance as well as the atmosphere of the royal court, to which there was apparent directorial attention.
The theatre achieved was obviously dominated by a generous sprinkle of dazzle, glitter and glamour. But those were the surface appearances of success, while the more significant achievements were to be found in the depth of plot, theme, and attempt at catharsis. The meritorious artistic accomplishments were in areas slightly more difficult to master. The use of the narrator (Aamir Khan) helped to bring this off as there was the interplay between two plots.
At one level was the director Riya Patel performing a story from the past. At the other level was the actual story she was dramatising. There was always a tension between the two plots, the present and the past, including the way the performers (and the director) related to the characters being portrayed and the qualities that they exhibited. Further, there was the way the two plots and times were integrated, even if the lessons learnt from them were not too effectively defined.
This kind of duality, as well as the use of a narrator allowed subtle commentary that was made dramatically, while being mainly hinted at in the actual dialogue. This was an intricate use of plot and sub-plot, appearance and reality that gave the production considerable merit. The differences between the courage and character of the real Prince of the past and the actor/dancer who played him (Noman Ahmad) contributed very strong irony. The actor playing the Prince (identified only as Ravi) during his reappearance in the contemporary reproduction of his own story produced an unpretentious, sensitive and very effective interpretation which greatly assisted the advance of plot.
The replay of the story allowed quite a vivid picture of the grandeur and formality of ancient Moghul society. It enhanced the portrayal of both its vices and virtues. The royal excesses and inhumane ‘justice’ of the absolute monarch was as larger-than-life as the sacrifice, the love and loyalty of the lovers and the heroism of the prince. These made the one more horrifying and the other more of an example to proffer in contemporary society where these things are only being played at.
Vindhya Persaud and the Dharmic Nritya Sangh achieved a highly polished, well produced and managed performance that actually got the best out of the physical plant – the sound, lighting and back-stage facilities of the National Cultural Centre. Whatever they did to bring this out, whether they had to bring in extra high-tech equipment, or whatever, it showed what the Cultural Centre stage is really capable of.