Belgian performers move to Indian rhythms

“Indian dance forms bring a lot of joy. The feedback we get most from audiences is how energised they feel after our performance. And we like Indian dance forms in general, because they are all so detailed,” says Tom Decuyper of Bollylicious, a Belgian dance group.

That is why — from among the myriad dance forms they have sound knowledge of, like salsa, cha cha and contemporary — his partners and he chose to turn their careers towards Indian classical and film dance.

Bollylicious, comprising Tom, Laura Neyskens and Ayla Joncheere, gave the city a short glimpse of their talent at the Consulate-General of Belgium’s King's Day celebrations at Taj Coromandel recently.

The trio is well aware of the limited expectations elicited by their dance company’s name, and take pleasure in surpassing it through their performance.

“We chose the name Bollylicious because we wanted something that would be recognisable for a non-Indian audience. But even though we perform to Bollywood music, we do Rajasthani folk dance, or kathakali, or fuse it with salsa or American dances."

Which is why, he adds, when classically trained Indian dancers collaborate with them, it all fits right in.

A case in point is the collective’s guest dancer for the evening, Sooraj Subramaniam. The Europe-based dancer’s Odissi Sthai performance, with choreography attributed to Adi Guru Pankaj Charan Das, stood out for it’s fluidity and strength of movement, but otherwise fell right in place with Bollylicous’ milieu of cha cha, contemporary and kalbeliya.

“Ayla has a PhD in kalbeliya, from the University of Ghent (Belgium), which is why we are closely attached to that community. We keep visiting them in Rajasthan. Laura is a contemporary and flamenco dancer who has performed with Belgium’s leading companies.”

The nuances of dance

Tom knows flamenco himself, and had been teaching salsa at his own school for 14 years, before tours with Bollylicious took up all his time. His training in Kathak, however, has not been smooth.

“I’ve had several teachers. I am currently learning in Ahmedabad, and have earlier had the privilege of some classes by the celebrated Kathak teacher Kumudini Lakhia,” he says. “Nobody teaches it in Belgium, so I’ve had to fly to India whenever I could and take classes here. I usually learn for about two weeks, and then come back again after half-a-year for another couple of weeks. So I make those weeks intense, learning and practising for about six hours a day.”

It reflects in their programme for the night, which is titled Mughal Medley and includes a fusion of classical, folk, contemporary and South American dance forms (they called it an attempt to create a “global mehfil”).

The sound track included snippets of songs from films like Mughal-e-Azam, as well as popular old tracks like ‘ Dil cheez kya hai’ and ‘Kanha ja re ja’. In fact, the most recent of all the film songs was ‘Dola Re Dola’ from Devdas. The movements were ghoomar, American contemporary, salsa, rumba, cha cha and, of course, Odissi, Kathak and kalbeliya.

Original beats

There was also an original music composition, the result of a collaboration with violinist Ambi Subramaniam and the rest of the Bengaluru-based Thayir Sadam Project team. The end result of a month of joint effort — composition in India, choreography in Belgium, recording back in India — is a fusion of thillana that the collaborators have named Swarabindu Thillana.

Tom is clearly enjoying what he’s doing — if his performance of the night is any indication — but he does miss teaching sometimes.

“I had about 400 students per year, of ages 12 to 70,” he reminisces, “It’s nice to train people, watch them evolve, getting the steps right, enjoying themselves.”

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 3:12:15 PM |

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