Founders of South Asian Fusion Dance Troupe
To Pass the Torch After Saturday Performance
When the dance troupe Mayuri performs in Pembroke Studio on Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m., it will be the last performance with the group for founders Piyali Bhattacharya and Gayatri Deodhar, both graduating seniors. But neither woman has any fear that the troupe or its unique brand of South Asian/hip-hop fusion will disappear from the Bi-College scene any time soon. In its four years, Mayuri has grown into a solid and sustainable organization with a board, a constitution and enough momentum to carry it into the future, Bhattacharya and Deodhar say.
"Mayuri has played a huge role in both our lives," says Bhattacharya. "It isn't just that we practice three times a week all year long. We've learned so much from it — how to write a budget, how to buy 10 sets of costumes and have those costumes altered for 10 different dancers, how to conduct an audition and how to be sensitive in announcing our selections."
"We also discovered how important it is to make our expectations explicit and create structures to share responsibility," Dheodar adds. "When we started, we were really relaxed, but now we have very specific rules about absences and tardiness to practice. At first, the two of us took on almost all the responsibility, but now we have a board with officers who share the work. Each dance piece we perform has a different choreographer or choreography team. The organization will definitely survive our graduation."
Bhattacharya and Deodhar began collaborating as a dance team when they were first-year students. Both auditioned for the annual culture show sponsored by South Asian Women with performances of classical Indian dance, which both had studied from an early age.
"The organizers of the show told us that they didn't want to include two acts doing the same kind of performance, so they asked us to perform together," Bhattacharya says.
The two worked well together, they found. So when Bhattacharya was inspired to create a fusion dance team by Columbia University's Naach Nation festival, an event featuring several South Asian dance troupes, she turned to Deodhar for help.
Last year, Mayuri performed at Naach Nation. The invitation to perform at the festival was one of many the troupe has received from colleges and universities around the country.
Mayuri's founding mothers were nudged in the direction of sharing responsibility last year, when both spent time studying abroad. Bhattacharya, a double major in English and South Asian studies (the latter major undertaken through Bryn Mawr's exchange program with the University of Pennsylvania), traveled to New Delhi, where she studied English literature and Hindi language. She has native fluency in Bengali.
"Piyali had been primarily in charge of the team, and when she went abroad, she more or less handed it over to me," Deodhar says. The following semester, when Deodhar studied abroad at University College London, she handed the reins back to Bhattacharya. By that time, the founders had begun to find ways to delegate some of the responsibility for the team.
According to Bhattacharya and Deodhar, Mayuri sets itself apart from other South Asian fusion troupes in a couple of ways. One is their eclectic choice of music.
"We choose music that we think has a good beat that allows us to choreograph a variety of different moves," says Bhattacharya. "We use music by the Black-Eyed Peas and the Low Fidelity All-Stars as well as South Asian fusion artists like Bikram Ghosh, Rishi Rich and Om."
"It's very popular to choreograph to Bollywood hits," Deodhar says, "but we tend to stay away from that — not just because it's trendy, but because it's too limiting. There's a Bollywood style of dance, and Bollywood music suggests Bollywood moves. We want to tap a broader range of sources for our choreography."
Another of the group's distinguishing features is related, says Bhattacharya: "Mayuri's diversity is very important to us. Most South Asian dance teams in the area are composed almost exclusively of people from South Asian backgrounds, but we have a real mix. I think having that range of perspectives helps make our choreography very original."
The showcase planned for Saturday night will include six dances, each with its own set of costumes, many of which were personally imported from India or Pakistan by members of the troupe. Seating is limited, and Bhattacharya and Deodhar advise spectators to arrive early. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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