Tue, Apr 20, 2010 - Page 16 News List

Bollywood moves in Taipei

Chan Yu-kuo, founder of Shiva Indian Dance Group, is among a growing number of Taiwanese who are taking an active interest in Indian culture

By David Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

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When it comes to Bollywood, or anything entertainment-related in India, Taiwanese tend to think of belly dancing, says Chan Yu-kuo (詹煜國). The 35-year-old dancer and Taichung native wants to change this view.

On Sunday night, his Shiva India Dance Group (西瓦印度舞團) performed classical Indian folk and Bollywood dance in a sold-out show at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall’s 400-seat lecture auditorium.

One aim of the program, Chan said in an interview last week, was to show how the dancing of Bollywood movies is connected to India’s ancient performing arts.

Much of the music on Sunday was modern Indian pop played from a CD (with a nice live music interlude of three musicians playing a sitar, tablas and harmonium), but the lively dance moves were traditional.

Shiva India Dance Group, whose dozen or so members are all Taiwanese, performed routines based on Kathak, a classical dance from Northern India that features intricate foot-tapping and hand movements, and mujra, a suggestive dance once performed by female courtesans for royalty and the upper class.

For Chan, a devotee of both forms, the visual aspect was equally important, with a costume change for each of the 13 dance pieces.

As the only male dancer, Chan dressed in traditional kurtas, while the women donned colorful, sparkling saris and lenghas, the skirt and blouse combination often seen in Bollywood movies. Chan had all of the clothes tailor-made in New Delhi.

“We want people to see the real India,” he said. “Not what Taiwanese people see as India, but what Indian people see as India.”

Shiva India Dance Group’s performance received support from the India-Taipei Association, India’s representative office in Taiwan, which helped to publicize the group’s show.

Chan, known by friends and students as “Ricky Q,” is a “passionate Indophile” and one among a growing number of Taiwanese with an interest in Indian culture, said Pradeep Rawat, Director General of the India-Taipei Association.

“In fact, there are more than 20 individual dance groups today in various cities of Taiwan passionately pursuing popular and classical Indian dance,” Rawat wrote in an e-mail to the Taipei Times.

An increasing number of Taiwanese are traveling to India for “culture-related tourism,” as well as showing interest in yoga and traditional Indian spas, according to Rawat.

Film has been another sign of a surging interest. Rawat said an Indian film festival organized by the association in January sold out in less than two days.

“More importantly,” he wrote, “starting last year, Indian movies are now being released commercially in local theaters.”

It was a Bollywood film that originally attracted Chan to Indian dance. He said the 2002 film Devdas inspired him to quit his job as an aerobics instructor and travel to New Delhi to study Kathak dance.

“I think that film had an important influence on creating ‘India fans’ in Taiwan,” Chan said. “We discovered that India was not what we were accustomed to seeing and that it was not poor and without joy.”

Chan was enchanted by the colorful dress, rich facial expressions and refined hand movements of the dancers he saw in Devdas, which led him to seek out the one of movie’s choreographers, Panjit Biriju Maharaj, a world-renowned Kathak dancer, poet and singer.

It took a full year of e-mail correspondence to convince Maharaj that he would make a devoted student. Since 2004, Chan has made yearly trips to New Delhi, spending three months out of the year to study with his “guru.” If it weren’t for financial and family obligations in Taiwan, Chan says, he would move to India.

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