Theatre - Fest

'Dance Like a Man' by Lillette Dubey: Dance, drama and relationships

Universal themes A scene from the play  

Two Bharatanatyam dancers, Jairaj and Ratna, past their prime. Their daughter Lata, a dancer as well, on the brink of fame. But in the seemingly normal successful family, there are tensions bubbling just beneath the surface.

This is what Mahesh Dattani’s English play Dance Like A Man explores. Over the last two decades, it has completed over 610 shows around the globe from New Zealand to the US. Directed by The Primetime Theatre Co’s Lillette Dubey, who also plays the role of Ratna, the play uses this drama to dissect the meaning of parent-child relationships, the tendency of family to bring up hidden scars when provoked, and the very idea of masculinity.

There’s a line in the play that says, “A woman in a man’s world is progressive, a man in a woman’s world is pathetic.” Do you think it is still true in 2019?

Yes and no. Maybe not in the urban scene, but there are lots of pockets in India where people are more conservative. Even though they may not admit it, they don’t find it appealing. There are still things that are considered a man’s job and things that are a woman’s job. ‘Pathetic’ is a strong word — it’s set in the 1950s, when a father sees his son dancing. There’s the whole idea of who is a man. Today, we’ve become more politically correct. No one would say it in such a strong manner, but they would still find it amusing, odd, strange.

'Dance Like a Man' by Lillette Dubey: Dance, drama and relationships

What does the play say about parents’ tendency to pin their hopes and dreams onto their children?

That’s just one of the themes. There is also the theme of two artists living together: strong-willed people with fragile egos and underlying competition. When you’ve lived together for a long time, there is bound to be a conflict of some kind, things that have been buried...

That’s the beauty of Dance Like a Man, it doesn’t remain in the dance world. You don’t have to be a dancer to relate to a mother-daughter or father-son relationship. You can love your daughter and want her to be successful, yet you want to get the credit for that; show that you are not over the hill.

A play that will go on forever, says Lillette Dubey

A play that will go on forever, says Lillette Dubey  

Has this universality of the layers of the play helped you take it across different countries?

You know, the only review I have framed on my wall, is that of The New York Times, because of the way he has understood and analysed the layers of the play. And this is a white man in his sixties, with no exposure to Bharatanatyam, India, or our socio-cultural ethos.

When I took this play to the US, people suggested we lose the accent, don’t say words like adavu, give them a glossary… But I don’t agree. When we see a play set in Harlem in New York, we enter that world, even though it’s different. The beauty of art and literature is that it illuminates our shared humanity. A play should be in its context, but also rise above to become something universal.

How have you incorporated Bharatanatyam in the play?

The play is not about dance; it’s about the dancers and their internal lives. The dance bit comes in the way the characters hold themselves, their postures, and the way they express with their hands.

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  • What: Dance Like A Man will be staged on August 16, at Corporation Kalaiarangam, TV Samy Road (West) RS Puram from 7.30 pm
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This has been one of the longest running English plays of India. Over the years, have you made any changes to it?

Except for a little bit of cast change, not at all. The main work happened when we first put up the play in Delhi 24 years ago. When you work with original material, you have to see what is working, what is fluff, where we need to add lines, where we need to improvise and so on. But once it’s set, I don’t need to keep making changes. The main thing is to keep the play fresh for the actors: how do we keep doing the same play again and again, that’s where the trick lies.

And what’s that trick?

Nothing! We have become this family; we don’t need to perform as actors any more. We have travelled all over the world together, shared experiences, things from our personal lives… we are very comfortable with each other. On an individual level, Ratna is part of my psyche now. I just become her when I go on stage.

A friend of mine once said, ‘Why are you flogging this dead horse?’ I said, this horse wants to run on its own, without me having to do anything. It’s gone to such an extent that Suchitra (Lata) says she will play my role, my daughter will play her role, and so on... This play will go on forever because we don’t want it to end. It’s a part of our lives. I don’t know how else to explain it.

Tickets available on www.insider.in and The Hindu's Theatre Fest page


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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 5:15:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/theatre-fest/director-lillette-dubey-says-that-her-drama-dance-like-a-mans-appeal-lies-in-its-universal-themes-of-humanity/article28835429.ece

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