Dance may be a universal language but cultural differences lurk in the details, says American dancer-choreographer Loren 'L' Livick as she talks about what it's like to choreograph for Indian films.
“On stage we dance for an audience. As choreographers we dance with cameras.” Loren 'L' Livick danced recently for an audience at the Engendered Dance Festival in New York City. She danced with the camera for the soon-to-be-released Hrithik Roshan's “Kites”.
Livick and her husband Flexy Stu feature in, direct and choreograph film and stage numbers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Asia; together they run Flexystudio. They made Roshan and Isha Sharvani cavort with a “Hide & Seek” biscuit packet; they made dancers prance and romance in the popular Tamil film song Hosanna.
Flexy Studios is one of few western choreography teams to have entered the world of Indian cinema and ads. Roshan called Flexy to India after seeing him in a Vodafone ad and asked him to choreograph the biscuit ad. Tamil director Goutham Vasudev Menon asked them to choreograph a few songs for his “Vaaranam Aayiram” (2008). This year, the dancing duo have choreographed and directed three songs in Menon's “Vinnaithandi Varuvaya”.
With gender and sexuality being the lens of the Engendered Festival, Livick was asked about being a woman choreographer in Bollywood. With a disarming chuckle, she said, “I wouldn't have been able to have the experiences I've had in India over here (the U.S.). I was given a lot of freedom. Women's voices are heard in Bollywood, which I haven't always felt here.”
While enjoying the freedom that Indian cinema offers, Livick doesn't rouge over the challenges, whether it is limited rehearsal time or the dancers' varying skills. Unable to understand local speech, the duo choreographs to the beats rather than to the lyrics. Dance might be a universal language but cultural differences lurk in the details. Livick quickly discovered that Indian dancers hear the beat on the up, whereas western dancers hear it on the down note. But the limitations finally worked to strengthen their performances, as Livick and Flexy broke down dance movements to their fundamentals. This helped the dancers replicate the steps precisely and simplified the editing process in the studios.
Livick found A.R. Rahman's music for “Vinnaithandi Varuvaya” an especially good fit for their choreography. Their choreography uses ‘locking’ and ‘popping’ actions, where dancers reflect electronic beats through the movements of their limbs. Rehman's beat-heavy soundscape perfectly lent itself to these actions, which originate in the joints and flow outwards in ripples and waves. She stays away from classifying their choreography, in the Indian context, as either hip-hop or fusion. Having learnt from the real gurus of hip-hop in Los Angeles and New York, she sees the dance as a counter culture in itself. Their choreography for Indian cinema uses steps from hip-hop but cannot be classified as hip-hop.
Flexy and Livick's dance demands that the body violate gravity; defy muscular limitations and make the spine pliant. Livick studied American street dance and contortion at the San Francisco School of Circus Art after gaining a dance degree at George Mason University. Her ability to push her own body was evident in her performance at the Engendered Festival. In a seven-minute composition, performed to music by A.R. Rahman and Thievery Corporation (an American DJ duo), she and two male dancers created a traditional love triangle: two men fighting for the affection of one woman. The piece went from trick to trick as it hurtled from head spins to back flips to floor calisthenics. “This is Bollywood, American style,” she sums up with a smile.
Ask her how Hrithik Roshan is as a dancer? Livick replies with rehearsed ease, “He works very hard. If he can't get something, he'll do it again and again, till he gets it. He really is a perfectionist. And he can make any move look good.” Later, she says candidly, “Flexy and I like the South Indian dancers…especially Prabhu Deva for the freedom that he dances with.” For Anurag Basu's ‘Kites', she and Flexy trained Roshan not only in dancing but also in how 'to be an American, how to think he was the best'. His walk had to become a swagger; his talk had to become an assertion. Finding that he was a naturally humble and polite person, the choreographers had to work hard to instil him with arrogance and brashness.
Now based in London, the couple is looking at dance workshops in England and possibly a workshop tour that might include Asia. When they are not travelling and working, they spend time in their ocean house, cooking and training.