ARTSMONDAY: 'Ghungroo' Full of Lively Grace

Carlton E. Forbes

Dancers in the “Hindi Film” performance brought famous Bollywood scenes to the stage of the Agassiz Theatre in the annual show “Ghungroo.”

With a cast and crew of 200 undergraduates, many of them novice dancers, “Ghungroo 2007” was a spectacular accomplishment of overwhelming rhythm and color. Presented by the South Asian Association (SAA), the 18th annual Ghungroo performance was a high-energy production whose imperfections only added to its charm.

Directed by Julie Goswami ’08, Gaurav Gulati ’08, and Rohini S. Rau-Murthy ’08, and produced by Rohan Kekre ’08 and Mayuri N. Shah ’08, the show ran March 1-3 at the Agassiz Theatre.

As it does every year, “Ghungroo” featured a wide variety of dances and instrumental numbers inspired by the South Asian culture and tradition, with a different program at every performance.

Highlights of Friday’s performance included the “Malayalee,” a boisterous scene of villagers and farmers flirting and drinking, choreographed by Vinita B. Andrapalliyal ’09, and the “Modern,” choreographed by Ravi K. Manglani ’08 and Amy A. Skaria ’10. The latter was a polished fusion of traditional and modern moves set to a funky South Asian beat.

Of the musical performances, “Qawwali,” credited as a “Sufi classic,” was memorable for its good-spirited mood. The large group of singers and instrumentalists created an engaging atmosphere as they sang, played and clapped to the rhythm while they sat cross-legged onstage.

“Saptaswara,” an understated and lovely blending of “Carnatic, Roma, Hindustani, Celtic and Western Classical” themes on guitar, mandolin, violin, tabla, and veena (an enormous stringed instrument), was also impressive.

The first act ended with one of the best performances of the evening, the “Bhangra,” choreographed by Pia P. Dandiya ’09, Roshan Hariharan ’08 and Michelle M. Hofmeister ’09. It was the spirit of “Ghungroo” at its best—the energy and personality of the dancers was palpable, with the male and female dancers radiating the sense that they were enjoying themselves immensely. The fun was even heightened by tiny flaws in their movements—it reminded the audience of the fact that the dancers were very real people.

Even when the costume of one of the male dancers started to fall off as he exited the stage, he recovered instantly with panache, and the charismatic energy didn’t flag for a second.

The visibly hard work of the performers was endearing, making accessible the exoticism of the dances. It seemed as if anyone could jump up and join them in the fun they were having, if they could only master the athletic and rhythmically complicated moves.

The musical and dance numbers were punctuated throughout by comedic skits about a “typical” Indian family that walked the line between lambasting the idea of ethnic stereotypes and depending on those same stereotypes for their humor. Though occasionally amusing—thanks mostly due to the goofy appeal of the actors—these skits felt largely unnecessary.

“Ghungroo 2007” was a great achievement, both as a display of cultural traditions and of students getting together to put on a good show. The qualities of professionalism and human accessibility combined to joyous effect in the final number, the Senior Dance, choreographed by seven seniors and featuring the dancing talents of an enormous crowd of senior Ghungroo participants.

As they stomped, sweated, twirled, and generally owned the stage, they radiated overwhelming good vibes, demonstrating why “Ghungroo” continues to be one of Harvard’s favorite performing traditions.