Matter of Perspective 

East Indian Follies brings a unique voice to local theater

Dance Like a Man, the latest production from the East Indian Follies theater company, will share with Boise the perspective of two generations in a traditional South Indian family. Naga Chandrasekharan, who plays two characters in the play, says the theater company is bringing a "completely new perspective to Boise." This particular production, he explains, will give Boise great insight into Indian culture. It is important for all of us to be exposed to vastly different cultures, according to Chandrasekharan, because "nothing is right or wrong--it's just perspectives."

click to enlarge Praveen Vaidyanathan of East Indian Follies. - PHOTO BY FRANCIS DELAPENA

The play revolves around its characters' connection to the classical Indian dance called Bharatanatyam. Praveen Vaidyanathan, who helped found East Indian Follies and is directing Dance Like a Man, plays young Jairaj, who aspires to be a Bharatanatyam dancer. However, Jairay's father, Amritlal discourages the dancing with a coercive authority. Before the 1940s (when the first generation of this play is set--the latter generation is set in the 1980s), the 2,000-year-old dance was viewed with dismay in Indian society. Bharatanatyam was "buried in British rule," explains Vaidyanathan. The women who danced during this time were dismissed as prostitutes. Beginning in the 1930s, however, the dance experienced a resurgence and participants are now widely respected in Indian society.

Dance Like a Man is the second play East Indian Follies has tackled from Indian playwright Mahesh Dattani. The first was Where There's a Will, which the theater company performed at the Special Events Center at Boise State during the summer of 2004. It was the company's first production outside of the Indian cultural festivals that happen each fall, where Vaidyanathan says the fledgling group performed "skits." Where There's a Will drew a crowd of over 400 people and quickly fostered within the group a strong desire to dive deeper into Indian theater.

Their next production was Vijay Tendulkar's Silence! The Court is in Session. Preparation and rehearsals took them nearly an entire year, from February 2004 to the four-night run of the play in January 2005. Vaidyanathan admits tensions were high during rehearsals due to the busy schedules of everyone involved and the difficulty of starting from scratch. "Even though we had times when confidence was dwindling, it was never gone," he explains. High tensions might have been a result of an apparent "jinx" cast over the play. Vaidyanathan tried the play twice in India, to no avail, while dabbling in theater with the National School of Drama. It was no surprise, then, when Silence was met with overwhelming positive response, Vaidyanathan and the rest of the crew discovered new strength to push forward with East Indian Follies.

Last summer, the East Indian Follies catapulted themselves further into the local theater scene by joining the Community Theater Association of Boise and producing a one-act play for the CTA's festival in August 2005. Geetanjali Tandon, who plays Ratna in Dance Like a Man, serves as the company's representative to the Community Theater Association. She praises the support that the East Indian Follies have received from the broader theater community. Conversely, she touts the company's contribution to the community. She explains that Indian theater will "help to answer those questions" people might have about the sizable Indian community here (around 900 families strong, according to Vaidyanathan). "In a growing community, it is important to portray our culture," she says. Tandon also identifies the East Indian Follies' potential to serve as a model for forays into theater by actors of other cultures in the Treasure Valley.

Contributions to the community, however, are hardly the single motivating factor behind the East Indian players' enthusiasm for theater. Chandrasekharan, for example, values the insight he gains into human nature through studying his characters. He is also motivated by the promise of exposure to Indian playwrights. Vaidyanathan echoes this sentiment, calling East Indian Follies "a way to explore our own culture."

Each of the East Indian players are united in their drive to bring a greater degree of cultural diversity to a theater scene dominated primarily by Western works. Chandrasekharan points to the Indian tradition of arranged marriage as just one cultural nuance that the East Indian Follies could expose Boise to. Ultimately, after an evening of tasty Indian snacks and what promises to be a wildly entertaining rendition of Dance Like a Man, Vaidyanathan wants "people to leave thinking."

June 23-24, 29-30 and July 1. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m. $10 advance, $8 students, $12 at the door. Indian snacks will be served. Visual Arts Collective, 1419 W. Grove St. For tickets, call 424-8297 or visit www.eastindianfollies.org.

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