Hands twirled across the dancers’ bodies in intricate circles as they spun with cloth flowing from their hip, taking up the entire patio. They switched from the delicate movements of Kathak to an attitude turn that fell into a grounded groove. The dancers’ movements pulled from Kathak and Bollywood in one second, and then suddenly jumped to hip hop and contemporary styles the next with an ease that blended genres like paint on a canvas, creating a beautiful portrait of love, longing and joy.
In Blue13′s latest production of “Shaadi,” or “wedding” in Hindi, choreographer, artistic director and USC lecturer Achinta S. McDaniel invites people to an intimate and immersive wedding experience that follows multiple narratives of people involved. What you experience is up to you.
The production that ran Sept. 17 - 18 took place at Heritage Square Museum where dancers performed inside and outside of the historic houses. Dancers inhabited each house to share separate stories about the tug and pull of love. The stories ranged from queer relationships and relationships caught in the middle of another. The show’s narrative was non-linear., It was entirely up to the viewer to decide which houses and performances to view and transfix on.
Although patrons’ experiences varied, the motifs established by each character brought everyone’s ventures together. Bansi the Bestie (Jacquelyn Buckmaster-Wright) dove her forearm to the ground as if digging for something missing, then pivoted her arm to and fro in her search, eventually floating back up off her elbows and knees. The movement repeated across the production, from the inside of a house to the outside stage, as she revisited her conflicting feelings for Nilli the Love Interest (Alisa Carreras) at the wedding. No matter what room you traveled to, they’d still get to see the movements that differentiated each character.
The overall performance was utterly entrancing. It exceeded the immersive experience of the stage or screen, engaging its audience and making everyone feel like they are a part of it. Standing at the front of the outdoor stage set on the ground, the ensemble lined up in hoop skirt cages, walking slowly towards the crowd, getting just feet from face until peeling at the last moment and swimming to another part of the grounds. They pulled the garment off and on as they entered modes of intense contemporary movement and stillness, both evoking the same emotion and struggle. Until… a burst!
Guests could sit and stand as close as they wanted as long as they weren’t in the way. If someone did get too close, it didn’t stop the dancers from moving through the crowd of people. Bodies parted to make way for performers trudging and strutting from one scene to the next.
The immersion didn’t stop there. The production invited people to dance with the performers. After all, it is a wedding and what is a wedding without connection and celebration? Portions of the evening involved a DJ playing music as the ensemble taught people choreography that would later bring everyone back together to showcase what they learned. Every aspect of the production was specific and purposeful in having people come together to experience the wedding celebration.
When we weren’t smiling and laughing from the joy of movement, we were hooked on the movement itself. Jai that Wanders (Anthony “Tones” Arellano) moved like water crashing and flowing from limb to limb, holding so much control in his body. When one body part moved, the remaining parts of him reacted, both physically and emotionally. Dancers like Robert Gomez and Atticus Dobbie transitioned from strong lines of ballet to quick hip hop footwork with ease and fluidity that captured eyes even from far away.
“Shaadi” brought everyone together to a church where the ceremony and reception took place in a heartwarming moment where performers joined the audience in watching the leading two wed. Surprisingly, the wedding did not take place in the church. While the ceremony happened outside the church, the inside held the final performance soundtracked by Billie Eilish and danced with a ferocity unlike the others. The dancers gripped onto each part of the space, pulling in and out of formation and stomping chair legs down to harmonize with the music.
Outside the church, there was an alternate harmony happening: one between patrons and performers. “Shaadi” brought strangers together to dance freely and joyously in celebration of the joining of Sharan the Groom (Kirby Harrell) and Indira the Bride (Joya Kazi). The production’s immersion was all-encompassing and kept people hooked till the very end where their night ended, but a couple’s life together began.