In May, I reviewed Junoon as a dance troupe to watch out for, because of their varied take on the Bollywood aesthetic. In their new show Aks, which means reflection, held at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, Junoon tackles some difficult topics, including rape, domestic abuse, and suicide. According to program notes, the show grew out of the artists’ reflections and quest for truth. There’s certainly a wonderful array of dances that speak to the young troupe’s greatest strength: a core team of artistic directors with diverse points of view. A look at each choreographer’s best piece (in my opinion) illuminates why Junoon’s shows are sold out.
My favorite piece of the night, Bombay 1947/In Love on War by Sonia Mukherji, is based on the Partition of India and Pakistan, an event which continues to define much of modern South Asia. Mukherji’s work is operatic and encompasses brothels, schools, guns, violence, and love. It’s an evocative piece, less concerned with the acrobatic movement I’ve come to expect from Junoon, and more focused on storytelling through dance. Rehan Qureshi’s Maut is another visual treat, full of whimsy, yet fantastically dark. Qureshi shows theatrical promise and the piece is reminiscent of Broadway-style musical theater dance. Ruby Verma and Chandan Hingorani’s pieces are more in the vein of traditional Bollywood numbers. Verma’s Ishq Kamina is lively and vibrant, while Hingorani’s Yeh Raat almost brings the audience to its feet. These dances are the necessary antidote to the more abstract pieces and together, the four artistic directors of company have created an aesthetic unlike any other dance company in New York.
There are growing pains, of course. As the company’s vision for itself becomes fully realized, the directors must carefully consider the caliber of the company’s dancers. There’s an obvious unevenness in many of the dances. As the choreography’s ambition rises, some of the dancers’ abilities have not. Then there are the continued technical glitches and the inclusion of unnecessary voiceovers that drag the pace of the show.
What’s most important is that in its second production, Junoon shows remarkable growth and truly an evolution of its creative spirit. This is an ambitious troupe and I’m excited to be a witness to their journey.