Sampradaya Dance Creations
Fleck Dance Theatre
In Toronto on Friday
Although there is much to admire in TAJ, the dance theatre piece is seriously flawed.
TAJ is a Luminato Festival commission for Lata Pada's company, Sampradaya Dance Creations, which means she had solid support to pull this work together.
On paper, her international dream team looks very impressive. Script by John Murrell, direction by Tom Diamond, and choreography by India's revered Kumudini Lakhia - but all have come up short.
The rest of the creators, India's Praveen D. Rao (music and sound), Phillip Silver (lighting and set design), Rashmi Varma (costumes), and Montreal's Jacques Collin (projections), have done a magnificent job.
Pada was inspired by the great love story behind the building of the iconic Taj Mahal, constructed by the Mogul emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Visually and aurally, the piece is spectacular, but there is no getting around Murell's repetitive, static, faux-poetic script. The structure has a dying Jahan (legendary Indian actor Kabir Bedi) recounting his memories to his devoted daughter Jahanara (Indo-Canadian actress Lisa Ray). Bedi and Ray, as accomplished as they are, can't get around Murrell's circular word traps.
The usually reliable Diamond has made some odd directing choices. For example, there is a thin grill railing around Jahan's divan. For variety, the actors sometimes sit on the railing, backs to the audience, their behinds bulging over. They speak their lines well, but are trapped in one corner of the stage.
Pada, who is trained in bharatanatyam, chose a kathak dancer to create within the style that came out of the Mogul court. Lakhia's choreography is a mixed bag, although the international cast of dancers is strong. Effective numbers like the fierce dance of the warriors is offset by a childish, foot stamping argument between a young Jahan and his father.
There is a beautiful production within the concept of TAJ. Producer Pada should rework the script and integrate the actors with the dancers.