Feet on 'Fire'
Bollywood meets Hollywood with Pasadena’s Blue13 in ‘Fire & Powder’
By Carl Kozlowski 08/01/2013
Achinta McDaniel, founder of the Pasadena-based Blue13 dance company, has spent the past 14 years bringing together wildly disparate styles that reflect her own unique terpsichorean background.
On Saturday, McDaniel’s most innovative mix to date, “Fire & Powder,” combines hip-hop and Bollywood-style dance moves in a production sure to heat up the Ford Amphitheater stage.
Combining the classic story line of “Romeo & Juliet “ with the kinetic energy of the modern-dance classic “West Side Story,” “Fire & Powder” employs an ambitious soundscape featuring tunes from Bollywood and Bhangra, a song by the White Stripes, live drumming, hip-hop and even some classical pieces by composers from New York to New Delhi.
Setting this urban dance adventure under the stars, amid the trees surrounding the Ford stage, only adds to possibly new levels of surprise and pleasure that should make the evening unforgettable.
“I’ve always been in love with ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as the iconic romantic tragedy, and it struck me about a year ago: What a perfect piece to re-invent and put on stage!” writes McDaniel, in response to emailed questions. “I immediately jumped at the thought of pitting two styles of dance against each other, and making the story about not only the love and obstacles between the two lead characters, but about the battle of dance styles themselves.”
As befits a show featuring Bollywood dance styles, the costumes involved in “Fire & Powder” will also be a wonder to behold, blending bright, beautiful Indian costumes and gold jewelry with biker boots. The dancers playing the Montague family wear blue costumes, with the Capulets outfitted in yellow attire.
While Blue13 normally consists of nine dancers, “Fire & Powder” has a cast of 20 in addition to three live drummers onstage. Many of the dancers already had a hip-hop background, so the challenge for McDaniel was teaching them the Bollywood moves she grew to love as the first-generation-American child of Indian immigrants.
“In my mind, the connection between Bollywood and hip-hop is so great, and was such a natural path to take,” writes McDaniel. “Both are huge umbrellas for dance genres: from b-boying and popping and waacking in hip-hop to classical Indian and Bhangra seen in Bollywood. What strings them together in ‘Fire & Powder’ is the strong contemporary undercurrent of the show — a truly artistic dance piece that tells the story,” she writes.
“From whirling upside down b-boys to flirty Bollywood snippets to emotional modern pieces, this show really has something for everyone.”
Saturday’s production marks the fifth straight year in which Blue13 has staged a summer spectacular at the Ford Amphitheatre, which she considers home for the group.
“There is just something so inspiring about dancing under the stars with the natural elements of the trees and the cobblestone steps that merge into the hillside,” writes McDaniel. “Our audiences love the Ford because you can arrive early at 6:30 to picnic and get henna tattoos, buy T-shirts and Indian baubles and jewelry, enjoy our children’s groups performing in the courtyard, and really choose your allegiance: Are you wearing yellow or blue? The Ford staff is super into it too. They will be asking our audience members if they want to sit on the Capulet or the Montague side of the audience, and so on. It’s a great experience there that is really unlike any other place in Los Angeles.”
McDaniel was born in New York City to parents who immigrated to the US in the 1970s and grew up dancing all Western styles, such as ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and modern dance. She started choreographing modern dance in her teens and found that the Indian cultural influence started seeping into her work.
“Hearing classical Indian music from my grandparents’ room growing up, watching live performances of dance, seeing Hindi movies in our family room, all of those made their mark on me,” she writes. “I started Blue13 in New York after I graduated from NYU and after a short six-month stint learning classical Indian dance in Bangalore, India. So we are now in our 14th year, and the work has gone from purely modern to what I dubbed ‘neo-kathak’ back in 1999, a sort of modern re-imagining of classical Indian rhythmic dance traditions, to Bollywood, Bhangra, and has sort of created this new genre that fits and feels so right, contemporary Indian dance.”
McDaniel chose the name Blue13 because “blue is an obsession of mine. My hair is blue, my car, all my clothes, even my cat is a Russian Blue. And my mom is nicknamed ‘Nilli,’ which means blue. The number 13 is just my lucky/favorite number!”
She bases the troupe and teaches Bollywood dance lessons at the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena in addition to teaching at UCLA, Hollywood, Culver City and elsewhere, saying that it’s a form that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy.
“What is exciting also about ‘Fire & Powder’ is that we are doing something that hasn’t been done before: We’re doing a Bollywood flashmob in the middle of the show,” she writes.
“Learn the dance and perform with us! This means anyone in the audience that learns the dance can jump up and do the choreography with us reflected on the stage! People who want to do that can go to our YouTube page and learn from the videos, or visit any one of our classes before the show for class information and locations.” n
Blue13 dance troupe presents “Fire & Powder” at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Los Angeles. Tickets are $12 to $45. Call (323)461-3673 or visit blue13dance.com. To see Blu13 in action, visit youtube.com/