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Review: Bent Bollywood at the Empire Theatre

By Lisa Lanzi

A much cooler Fringe this evening and a full moon to boot… a great setting for some outstanding queer and non-binary culture x Bollywood x Indian Classical Dance in BENT BOLLYWOOD, a collection of solos and duets. With a hypnotic beginning accompanied by traditional Indian music we experience a reverent almost prayerful duet of slow twining movement and balance. The two honed bodies are clothed in very little, the lighting is subtle to start with and the audience are already fixated.

Raina Peterson is a performer and creator from Victoria with a previously rather contentious appearance under their belt in the 2009 Fringe where an Australian flag was destroyed. (You can read the artistic statement here . They have been dancing since they were five and at twelve began studying under Tara Rajkumar in Melbourne. Raina’s practice is based in a style of Indian Classical Dance called mohiniyattam that originates from the State of Kerala in India and immortalises the feminine, the erotic and the tender.

There is a saying in the Natya Shastra, a sacred Indian text on the arts : "Where the hand is, the eyes follow, Where the eyes go, the mind follows, Where the mind is, there is the feeling, Where there is feeling, there is mood/flavour, sweetness (i.e., appreciation of art; aesthetic bliss)”. Aesthetic bliss was certainly evident in the dancing throughout Bent Bollywood as was the pure physicality and excellence of two dancers performing with astounding focus and attention to detail. As the performance builds, the duets become more tender and sensual and various props make noteworthy appearances - not giving away spoilers here!

One of the specific characteristics of Indian Classical Dance are the Mudras, or hand/finger gestures and both performers hands were tipped with traditional red dye to enhance the visual appreciation of the complex signals. The 50 plus Mudras convey specific ideas, events, actions, or creatures as well as some which are used as purely aesthetic or decorative elements. These, plus eye and head movements give the form it’s character and expression and subsequently, a deep connection with the audience - you start to believe that the dance is for you, and only you. The pieces performed by Raina Peterson throughout are mesmerising and highly sensual, channelling the female divine and the supreme seductress, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Another element in evidence is the suggestive contrast between the undulating, graceful and seductive movement presented by Raina, and the more upright and percussive style from their partner. Working in unison at times, both are expert as the choreography demands, even when a more commercial Bollywood flavour takes over and the audience can’t help but smile at the flirtatious and energetic but still skilful performances.

This is GREAT Fringe fare and definitely worth a visit to experience the spectacle and energy of two wonderful performers.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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