A case of mistaken identity for the Indian classical dancer?
This review (also available online here) was first published in Dance Research Journal, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter, 2004), pp. 139-143. It is being re-presented here with the permission of the author, in addition to a few performance photos and a short excerpt of the performance (uploaded by the director). Photo courtesy – Michel Laub (http://www.michael-laub.com/showContent.php?id=138) and photographer Monica Rittershaus. We would be happy to remove the review/ video/photos if we are notified of any copyrights rule violation.
Total Masal Slammer/ Heartbreak no. 5, conceived and directed by Belgian director Michel Laub and visual artist Marina Abramovic , has been described as a European American Indian multimedia theater project combining dance, theater, video projection, art installation, and music. Laub and Abramovic draw on vastly mixed references to deal with themes of race and multiculturalism. A recurrent theme is women and their abuse in different cultural perspectives. Laub and Abramovic are fascinated by two extremes of Indian culture: on the one side the purity of classical Indian dance and art, kathak; on the other, the triviality of soap operas and kitschy TV serials produced by Bollywood (Archa Theatre 2001). Laub’s theater is said to play with the conventions of theatrical representation, constantly bringing the rehearsal process onto the stage. Less interested in trained actors than in forceful personalities, Laub looks for a fusion of the autobiographical details of his performers with fictional situations. So, what happens when Michel Laub, a postmodernist with a tendency to parody order, system, and signification, collaborates with Kumudini Lakhia, a traditional reformist for whom art is about poetry, wonder, simplicity, and dignity?
In Total Masal Slammer, unrequited love is “performed” in different performance traditions of kathak and Bharatanatyam, Bollywood soap opera, and German theater. Actors, sometimes wearing period costumes, read out excerpts from a book with exaggerated melodrama or affected irreverence. Audition videos are screened, and there is much dancing– contemporary dance, cabaret, kathak, and bharatanatyam. It has a deliberately fragmented piece-by-piece approach with actors seated on stage, taking turns to perform their acts. Goethe’s text. “The sorrows of Young Werther,” appears and disappears between numerous unconnected episodes. It concerns a young man stricken by unrequited love to the point of taking his life.
The French Kiss Scene
The set is minimal with a cinema screen on a raised platform upstage center, a wooden platform downstage center and chairs on either side. A backdrop of billowy cloth tumbles down dramatically with some scene changes. Among the characters are three contemporary dancers, seven kathak dancers, and two bharatanatyam dancers chosen from the auditions in Bombay, Ahmedabad, and Chennai. Woman as sex object is a recurring motif. A dancer in a sequined dress wriggles and sways as she recounts the mischievous story of her Caribbean-European origin while a European dancer in a clinging red sari listens to her Walkman, giggles, and imitates an Indian accent; she returns later in the nude and joins a group of female kathak dancers, mimicking their delivery of bols  .
A male kathak dancer sings a song about love while a frantic woman repeatedly runs across the stage. Two male Bharatanatyam dancers begin dancing a traditional fast-paced rhythmic piece while the traditional accompaniment suddenly changes to an electronic techno beat. Excerpts of films are projected on the screen from time to time, including a clip in which a Bollywood dancer with her thrusts and covert glances fills up the screen and is followed by a eunuch. Renowned choreographer Kumudini Lakhia demonstrates sorrow in the classical tradition. During intermission, a kathak dancer performs a complicated rhythmic piece in front of the curtained stage. The last scene brings all the characters on stage at the same time, each doing their routine in a frenzied pace.