PSU Vanguard Shield Icon

New forms and themes explored in “Dance Like a Man”

Dance Like A Man
Artists Repertory Theatre
1516 S.W. Alder
July 26-29 – 7 p.m. Thur/ Sun – 8 p.m. Fri/ Sat
$18 general, $14 student/seniors, $9 PSU students

On the first floor of Lincoln Hall is an obsequious wooden door. Behind the door is a small, practical and windowless room. The room houses, besides the art supplies for the theater arts department, a small desk, a classic swivel chair and a well-used computer. The walls are covered in playbills from years and years of school productions and the room smells vaguely of coffee. This, at least for this summer, is Mahesh Dattani’s office. Dattani, one of India’s most celebrated modern director/ playwrights, is the author of “Dance Like a Man,” which plays this Thursday through Sunday nights as part of the PIPfest.

Comically, dramatically, “Dance Like a Man” juxtaposes a young dancer’s promising future against her parent’s misgivings of their unfulfilled lives and a dark secret. Though Indian in context, Dattani asserts, “There’s nothing here that’s alien to American audiences.”

Written in 1989 “Dance Like a Man” has received more than 120 performances worldwide. Dattani is the first playwright writing in English to receive the Sahitya Akademi Award, the highest literary award in India, for his book “Final Solutions and Other Plays.”

His most recent play, “Thirty Days in September”, opened in June and concerns the story of a woman who’s survived child sexual abuse. Dattani, in respect to the well-over 2,000 years of historical background of Indian theater and culture, says of himself and other modern Indian playwrights, “We’re talking about radical ideas. Discussing things which the traditional values seem to have brushed under the carpet, or doesn’t want to discuss.”

By discussing, writing and presenting new ideas and values, “Plays,” Dattani says, “are having to find new forms.”

“Dance Like a Man” is a good example of this “new form”, as it shifts between past and present while the characters switch from one persona (present) to another (past).

Dattani explains, “Thematically I’m talking about individuals pushing the boundaries from within. They don’t actually want to be out of the system, but are willing to push the boundaries so that they have a location within the boundaries.” Which is understandable considering Bangalor, his hometown, is a city of 4 million with double the population density of Portland.

PIPfest again offers, in “Dance Like a Man,” another great opportunity to see universal themes presented and interpreted from the unique perspective modern day India. And, in Dattani’s words, “What it means to be an artist… a rebel… in my locality.”

After the performance Friday there will be a talk back session with Datani and the actors of the Primetime Theatre which have been performing “Dance Like a Man” as part of their repertoire for the past five years.