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Nritarutya's performance for the queen
- Mayuri Upadhya, Bangalore

June 29, 2012

I've been into dancing for over a decade now. Growing up dancing on roads, terrace tops, and even with imaginary friends, it was not much of a surprise when I ended up dancing professionally. I like everything to do with this art form. It's a journey across a live wire. My batteries are constantly charged physically and emotionally and it is totally worth it!

One final call sealed everything from our end and packed us off for an exciting escapade to the UK. My Indian contemporary dance company Nritarutya was going to be part of The Queen of England's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. We were to collaborate with Raghu Dixit, Indian folk rock phenomenon from India and combine our creative dancing selves with one of his magical tracks -"Mysore Se Aayi." A special performance was planned with a presentation of over 550 horses as well as dancers, performers and artistes from across the world to celebrate 60 years of the reign of The Queen of England. I was thrilled to bits! I was to choreograph one of Raghu's tracks, backed by a 70-piece orchestra and 550 horses and dance to represent India and for that matter the entire Asian continent. Absolutely NO pressure!

I arrived in Leicester in London earlier than the rest of the team, to work with the UK based dancers. Rehearsals in the studio were quite demanding and would last for five hours with an eye to every component of work. We would run through several exercises and techniques and even held experimental sessions for the dancers to absorb the movement, understand the right technique and feel the essence (satva). From learning the moves to owning the act; each dancer had his or her own unique journey to travel.

"Mysore Se Ayi" had a theatrical quality from concept till rendition and our technique had to further improve, to dramatize, stylize and personalize that element. Every creative choreographic work of mine makes personal statements. It draws modern representations of Indian aesthetics. Even though I'm a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, I indulge myself in contemporary dancing. It clicks! And that is because it proclaims the need for innovation and brings connectivity between various elements.

The last part of the choreography required the dancers to balance and dance with puppets on their heads. Inspired from India - Rajasthani and Karnataka's channapatna gombes, these puppets were dressed in the native costumes of Raghu's hometown, Mysore. They have a narrative history in Indian theatre and dance and hence added a cultural, geographical, aesthetic sensibility to the main motif of the song. After the dancing was set, we closed in on the final chapter, working with Raghu's live singing and matching its voice power. The sheer energy in the studio was incredible. In fact, the very first time Raghu sang his lungs out, my dancers in all their excitement toppled and fell in the middle of the routine. It was hilarious! There was confusion all over, burst of giggles at the toppling dancers and amidst all this, Raghu continued to sing with his eyes closed. Three days of hard core practice and it was time to head to Windsor.

The first sight of Windsor Castle was magnificent and imposing. It is said to be one of the oldest and largest inhabited castles in the world. The Queen spends most of her weekends here and a flag is hoisted up every time she visits the palace. Raghu and I had the honor of meeting Her Majesty in person, over a cup of English tea. The grandeur of architecture of the palace took our breath away. Inside the castle, there were detailed ornate golden carvings on the walls, Victorian paintings in gold frames and the ceiling was decorated with shields of warriors who fought for the life and longevity of the castle. The Queen arrived in all her grace and took time to greet each one of us present there and thanked us for being part of the celebrations. We also got the chance to chat with renowned American classical violinist David Garrett, Australian entertainer Rolf Harris (who kept singing "Mera Joota Hai Japani" to me) and leading South African actors from the West End smash hit The Lion King. It felt like a Cinderella moment!

From the 10th of May, we began our stage rehearsals. The stage was massive with different levels and platforms designed to display explosive artistry. There was an imposing backdrop of Buckingham palace, four drum shaped circular stages closer to the audience and the horses were right in the center of the grounds. I thought to myself, "Now I've seen it all... I'm competing against horses for attention and glory!"

The final show day arrived. We packed ourselves into green rooms and make-up trucks by afternoon. We were wearing beautiful costumes designed by James Ferreira and Raghu was in his signature lungi and kurta. Bit by bit everything fell into order and we were ready for show time. A spotlight opened our extravagant performance. It was a stunning collaboration of music and dance, with us clapping, enjoying, and living every moment of the performance with nothing but happiness around us. One of the most amazing things about dancing is how quickly it lures you to an intimate relationship with yourself, where the rest of the world disappears. Thanks to the dancing talent of Nritarutya, paired with the musical genius of Raghu, we put up a great show! And it didn't stop there. Raghu and I were invited to the Royal Pavilion to watch the rest of the show and to party in true British style.

It was time to reflect upon what we'd created and experienced here. The power of art is not for demonstration but realization. It can cross all frontiers and link one nation with another. And throughout history we have never been so painfully in need of a bonding as today. I kept the honor of my country, held my head high and my dance made this possible. We formed great friendships through our love for dance. I'd discovered an amazing way to connect with people, touch lives without words and share happiness. No matter where I go, the world definitely is my 'stage.' I am a dancer!

Mayuri Upadhya is the Artistic Director of Bangalore based Indian contemporary dance company Nritarutya.

Great! Very happy you made our country proud, winning a gold medal at international level. We are all very proud of you and your team. Good luck, wishing many more such international shows.
- Sai Venkatesh & family
(July 19, 2012)

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