Raunchy yet riveting: When queer meets classical

Indian classical dance performance Bent Bollywood breaks free of pre-conceived notions of gender in art

Indian classical dance performance ‘Bent Bollywood’ breaks free of pre-conceived notions of gender in art

Two classically trained dancers are putting on a queer show called Bent Bollywood. How do these two worlds come together in performance? And where does Bollywood fit into all this? I really didn’t know what to expect when I sat down in the intimate theatre at the Mechanics Institute, on 26 February 2017.

Bent Bollywood revealed itself to be breath-takingly gorgeous, possibly the sexiest thing I have ever seen. From excellence in craft, to stage presence, the depth of content, to sheer entertainment value, I was mesmerised. Too stunned to even clap, as soon as the one-hour ended, my first thought was, ‘I have to watch this again.’

And I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. The sold-out show got a much-deserved standing ovation.

The show has been directed and performed by Raina Peterson and Govind Pillai. It rips apart all pre-conceived notions of gender and does so with a whole lot of bravado.

It opens with the perfect symbol, a piece on Sri Ardhanaareeshvara: a Hindu god who is half male, half female.

Next came Raina’s spell-binding solo, titled ‘Dust’. As she used gendered mudras (hand gestures from classical Indian dance), and symbolically turned them into dust, one felt that you could literally see the sand escaping from her fingers. The unique combination of her Mohiniyattam dance and belly dance training lends her an enigmatic presence on stage.

Indian classical dance performance Bent Bollywood breaks free of pre-conceived notions of gender in art

As a contrast, Govind’s solo got the audience giggling as he played (very cheekily) with his prop: a Bonds underwear. Govind explained that, “Bonds is a very Australian symbol. And this show is about what it is like to be queer, here in Australia.”

His solo moved into an upbeat Bharatnatyam (classical dance) routine, juxtaposed with techno music. The unexpected merging of these two diverse worlds was strangely liberating.

As the show progressed into duets, Raina and Govind proved to be a perfect match for each other. Govind’s sheer vulnerability, complemented Raina’s controlled strong presence beautifully. Where Govind’s mastery of his facial expressions stood out, one was just awestruck by Raina’s control over her body. She moved like water, or air, or an animal! A highlight was their twist on the ‘wet sari’ scene; funny, symbolic and powerful.

The pace of the show was brilliant, packed with one surprise after another, with a jaw-dropping climactic ending. One audience member remarked, “Everyone wants to just be who they are.” And that is what I feel the show represented—the courage to live in a full expression of your personal truth.

Raunchy, graceful, relevant and courageous, Bent Bollywood is a brilliant production that has dared to break rules and cross boundaries. And in the best way possible!

Bent Bollywood runs again from 31 January till 3 February at 7.30pm at Mechanics Institute, 270 Sydney Rd, Brunswick.


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