One of the opening events at the Melbourne Festival is The Manganiyar Seduction, a spectacular production by Roysten Abel that has been taking the Manganiyars, a caste of Muslim musicians from Rajasthan, around the world to festivals since 2006.
The show is an inspired concept bringing together the subtleties of folk/classical music of this Indian desert region with the brilliance of show business that owes something to the Bollywood spectacular. Music that was played for centuries to the Rajasthani kings of India is here fully miked and staged for universal appeal.
The forty-three musicians, who would traditionally be seated on the ground or floor to sing or play their stringed instruments and drums, are raised into a huge edifice of four stories, with thirty-six cubicles lined in red velvet and lit like dressing room mirrors, where they sit cross-legged in their white robes and coloured turbans, facing the audience. But, to begin with, the curtains are drawn shut, the giant set a mysterious magic box.
The show starts modestly as the curtains of one velvet cubicle are drawn aside and a lone kamancheh player embarks on the first of three melodies that provide the themes for this continuous one-hour, twenty-minute concert. Soon he is joined by a singer, until, one by one, the cubicles all reveal their contents: mostly singers with their individual voices and gestural storytelling, but also percussion, reed instruments and strings. Most interesting of all are a whistle-like flute and a mouth harp.
The audience was indeed seduced by the music, which built slowly in intensity through a passionate performance by these fine musicians that entwined historic ballads with Sufi poems and everyday celebrations. A barefoot, bareheaded conductor, Deu Khan, kept the ensemble together with his exuberant dancing hands and feet and his kartal (castanets).
The Dhol and Dholak drums were powerful rhythm keepers and stars in their own right, adding drama to the ecstatic crescendo that swelled across the auditorium, once all the boxes were open and a strobing effect rippled through the rows of lights. When the crowd rose for a standing ovation, there was a strong whiff of religious rapture in the air.
2011 Melbourne Festival
The Manganiyar Seduction
Director Roysten Abel
Venue: The Arts Centre | 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Dates: 6 – 9 Oct, 2011
Tickets: $97.50 – $25.00
Duration: 1 hour 20 mins
Bookings: 1300 182 183