FISH EYES written and performed by Anita Majumdar, directed by Gregory Prest. Presented by Pull'it Out Theatre as part of HATCH at Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West). Opens tonight (Thursday, November 11) and runs to November 14, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $12, stu/srs $10, Sun mat pwyc. 416-973-4000.
Bet you've never seen someone brush her teeth using the rhythms and gestures of Indian dance. Unless you caught Anita Majumdar's play Fish Eyes earlier this year.
Writer/performer Majumdar, a recent National Theatre School (NTS) grad, presented the piece at SummerWorks. The comic, touching tale of Canadian teen Meena, who wants to be "normal" but feels defined by her Indian dance background, was terrific, especially in the way it linked dancing and Meena's everyday activities.
With the help of Harbourfront's HATCH program, Majumdar's offering an expanded version of Fish Eyes.
"I've been dancing for seven years," Majumdar says on the phone from Vancouver, where she's filming a CBC movie called A Love Story.
"When I was accepted at NTS, I assumed I'd have to put away my Indian dance in order to become a classically trained actor.
"In fact," she laughs, "that didn't happen. The program encouraged me to use all that I possessed, so it became an ongoing joke among my fellow students - "Anita's going to do that Indian dance again."
She did work that background into shows as different as Antony And Cleopatra, The Seagull and Judith Thompson's Sled.
Independently from school, Majumdar developed a solo piece about a woman who couldn't get away from her Indian dance training, which interfered with every aspect of her life. When she performed it, everyone loved it; director Chris Abraham encouraged her to take it to Toronto, which led to a SummerWorks slot.
In the rewritten version, Meena's still caught up with being accepted by her peers, falls for a Caucasian classmate and rebels against yet tries to impress her elderly dance teacher, Kalyani Aunty. There's a new character, the self-impressed video star Aishwarya, who becomes Meena's rival on several levels.
"Meena has a good heart, and while I don't agree with all her views on life, I understand her and share some of her background," notes Majumdar.
"Back in high school, I felt I couldn't admit that I watched Bollywood movies and enjoyed aspects of my South Asian culture. But now that various parts of Indian life aren't so unusual - a lot of people wear henna designs, for example - I have the sense that South Asian culture is becoming cool."
On the road to accepting herself, Meena now ends on a note of empowerment, which satisfies Majumdar just as much as the dance element in the show. A blend of various classical Indian forms, the dance, along with the dialogue, helps define character. Meena's dancing is "happy, peppy, typical of classical Indian dance," while Aishwarya's is "darker, more sexual."
"I've always been careful with the dance in the show, because I worry about boring viewers. The short dances in Fish Eyes whet the appetite and give an idea of what's going on, of how fast Meena's mind works.
"But you don't have to know anything about Indian dance to appreciate the piece. I want audiences to get lost in these characters and have a good time."