How popular is Indian Bollywood-style dancing?
Go to almost any wedding reception in England no matter the ethnicities of the bride, groom or guests and wait for the DJ to cue up an Indian song.
"People automatically start moving," explains Dr. Tarlochan Tagore, a Sanger physician and longtime local radio host. "That's how catchy it is. Whenever you go to any weddings in Great Britain, they play these songs and everyone is on the floor. A lot of people are adapting to this kind of dancing, no matter their community."
In recent years, Bollywood-style dancing has been increasing in popularity in the U.S. as well, Tagore says. Just last month, an American woman of Indian descent won the Miss America pageant. Her talent: Bollywood dance.
That popularity is one reason why the Lively Arts Foundation, which has brought many major dance companies to Fresno, is presenting "Mystic India: A Bollywood Dance Spectacular" Friday night at Saroyan Theatre.
A cast of 24 dancers will guide audiences on a journey through time periods and regions of India, including Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
The show highlights historical periods and figures as well, all with choreography featuring Indian classical styles mixed with the "street" feeling of jazz and hip-hop.
"It's like a mix of the streets of Mumbai and New York," says choreographer Amit Shah.
Though many people use Bollywood as a shorthand to describe dance, it's not quite accurate to describe the choreography that way, Shah says. Bollywood is a film industry and an incredibly prolific one at that. Bollywood films are famous for their musical interludes.
"We're doing Indian dance based on Bollywood film music," he says.
Born in the U.S., Shah's "Mystic India" which began a world tour in 2012 has an Indian-American feel. The dancers in the production coming to the Saroyan are from the U.S. Some have performed alongside notable Bollywood actors, including Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit.
Shah in 2008 founded the AATMA Performing Arts academy in Los Angeles. Dancers are trained in a method that blends traditional Indian dance styles such as Bharathanatyam, Kathak, Garba and Bhangra with ballet, jazz and hip-hop. In presentation and emotional draw, the style is a peppy mix of East and West with lots of pop influences.
The show gives a wide view of India, both in terms of regional differences and history.
"I kind of look at it as if you're taking a helicopter ride over India," Shah says. "Even Indian people walk away and say, 'Wow, even we learned something.' "
Because Bollywood is such a visual experience, the "Mystic India" company goes all out on costumes. The two dozen dancers will arrive from the East Coast in Fresno with about 550 costumes all packed into luggage. ("Just the logistics of fitting everything in would be worth a whole separate story," Shah says with a laugh.)
The goal: to provide a dazzling experience.
Tagore has been promoting "Mystic India" on his weekly radio show, "Geet Sangeet," which has been on the air for 25 years on KBIF 900 AM. A fervent fan of the Bollywood style, he embraces the genre for its "pure entertainment."
"Especially in a place like Fresno, we don't get many opportunities to see the talent of the young people who will be dancing," he says. "I know the Indian population is very excited about it."
"Mystic India," 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St., livelyarts.org, (877) 608-5883. $22-$59.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, dmunro@fresnobee and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.