The stage revels in its many proud traditions while taking its deep customs very seriously. Some of these have to do with the work ethic of the theatre, some are ritualistic, some cathartic, others even mythical, but many of them involve its relations with an audience. Curtain calls, for example, are repeated at the end of a performance according to audience demand. The same goes for repeat performances which may be brought back by popular demand, because of significant re-working, or because it is felt or determined that the hard work put into the production is worth the fulfilment of more than a single performance.
Sometimes repeats or re-runs are driven by dramaturgy. Normally dramaturgy is done to render the work more stageable (or stage-worthy) in the first place before it is put before the public. But sometimes the greatest dramaturgy happens when it is tested in performance in front of a live audience and it becomes clear what needs fixing or what may be done to increase that sense of achievement that theatrical performers need. A work may therefore be repeated for a feeling of fulfilment on the part of both performers and audience, and this is all part of the theatre as a process of interconnectivity between the two.
The recent performance of Naya Zamana 111/2 at the National Cultural Centre may be seen in this context. It was actually a repeat of the 11th annual production of Naya Zamana, called Naya Zamana 11, whose regular show held at its usual time each year was completely sold out in 2005. This annual show has a very strong enthusiastic constituency with the popular appeal of the Indian performing arts including music, dance and film. It certainly satisfied a large audience since, having been virtually held over by popular demand, the repeat was also sold out.
Naya Zamana 111/2 was directed by Vindhya Varshini Persaud, Assistant Lecturer in Medicine at the University of Guyana, who has also directed previous productions in this series. She has been the leading light and the leading talent over the years as Artistic Director, main choreographer, trainer and leader of the cast as well as lead dancer and lead actress in this production. But there is something more than popular demand in the apparent ambitions of Dr Persaud which are the same as the implied mission of Naya Zamana which has much to do with teaching and inspiring the young or new generation in a knowledge of the Indian arts. What started on a small scale in the Kendra, and to some extent in the annual Diwali concert among students at the University of Guyana, was inspired and fired up by overwhelming audience response and grew to its present wide scope and dimensions.
There can be no better dramaturgy than the 111/2 years of audience test that Miss Persaud has taken Naya Zamana through, and she has no doubt been attempting year after year to improve its shape and to find a settled form for it. In 2004 she seems to have decided what this form should be. From all appearances it was the choice of the popular. An increasing focus on filmi dance gradually took centre stage and Dr Persaud was moved to stage a musical based on the Indian film. Naya Zamana 11 (including the half) was thus a fairly loose but consistent and comprehensive plot which held the dances together. There was a main romantic theme; the usual labyrinths of pitfalls, adversity and a certain amount of derailment; the aversion of near-tragic outcomes; comic relief; a happy/satisfactory ending; sequences of songs, dances and choruses.
This was the idea to make a stage musical; a version of the Indian cinema, but to be more specific, a copy and stage reproduction of Bollywood. This, as indicated above, seemingly arose from a choice to go popular, to focus on filmi dance and music. A form has therefore been found which raises it from the relative formlessness of the variety show of the early productions. But it also raises serious questions that a critic must ask.
Filmi dance has a strong element of imitation since it originated in sequences in Bollywood films for the popular cinema and video versions, often with moves performed to particular songs. These are often copied and performed on stage. The questions here may begin with this. There is a problem with male dancers in Guyana because the good ones are in very short supply and many who appear on stage are incompetent. A really good thing is that Naya Zama 11 found many willing, talented and enthusiastic male dancers. But if they are weaned on filmi dance, how much training do they get in dance, in technique, in a range of forms? How much do they learn of Indian dance?
They may learn the steps of a dance, but have they learnt to dance? How competent do they become as trained dancers? A limited focus on this kind of popular move may therefore create a diversion from the commendable intentions of teaching the new generation.
Naya Zamana 111/2 was much too lengthy, longer than its original version Naya Zamana 11 since a number of additions were made to it. But the new version was much more competent, more polished and more accomplished. The dialogue was fuller and better delivered, as was the treatment of the story line. Vindhya Persaud evidently took the opportunity of a repeat performance to put in more work for improvement.
It was very impressive in its excellent costuming, spectacle and set decor, with creative, artistic ideas for the integration of set, plot and performance. It was obviously a very expensive production, but came out being worth considerably more because of the clear evidence of extremely hard work that must have been put into it. There was a remarkably large cast which performed with delight and exhibited some talent, particularly the female dancers. It is a pity there was no printed programme to acknowledge them.
It was also a pity that the question of thorough training in various forms of Indian dance, despite the performance of a few of them in the production, and training in the techniques of dance generally still remains. But the product of all that work deserves its extended curtain calls and deserves the added fulfilment of being seen again.