REVIEW: “Thunderstruck” Ri Ri Dance Academy, Touring

Dazzling is an over-used word in theatre reviews (especially mine) but it is the perfect fit when describing this brand new show embarking on its first short tour of venues in north west England.

It brings together the Navratri and Diwali stories, told through dance and theatre plus something very like a modern magic lantern show. This magic lantern takes the form a six-sided ornamental tent. Patterns and images are projected onto its walls both from within and from outside. It is fitting for Diwali because lamps are so much a part of that festival, representing the triumph of light and reason over the darkness of fear.

Fear is a strong presence in this production, embodied by the imposing VIMAL KORPAL as demon lord Mahishasura. He is one of several collisions promised by publicity for Thunderstruck. He strides in from the Navratri story to take the narrative place of Diwali’s evil Ravana. In ferocious blunted horns, Korpal radiates menace with every glare and gesture. His snarling speeches are punctuated by thunderclaps and by swirling constellations projected onto the tent, the walls, the ceiling.

His power seems as limitless as his depravity, leaving the audience afraid for the safety of Sita, the new young bride he has kidnapped on a whim. She is played with great poise and intelligence by RIA MEERA MUNSHI, the choreographer of this extravaganza. And the choreography is one of the highlights.

This is most evident in the sequences where a trio of dancers (DONITA DANY, CRAIG HANSON and SONAKSHI SENTHIL) take to the stage. They are dressed in gorgeous traditional costumes and I took them to be representative of the human race in this story. The fluidity of each of their sequences is as remarkable as their synchronisation. A dance with rippling coloured ribbons becomes hypnotic, helped a great deal by the accompanying fusion of KEVIN CARROLL’s trad and trance music.

Later these dancers perform with staves to show a battle between good and evil, and appear for another brilliantly executed number in which they somehow manage to hold a rainbow-glowing lotus bowl in each hand. This is highly appropriate in a show which has all the beauty and organic precision of a new lotus flower.

Mahishasura’s greatest mistake is in placing himself above the gods. They argue spectacularly and at length about how best to stop his reign of fear. While they do this, Lord Ram searches for his missing bride Sita. This is a very good performance by CHRISTOPHER JEFFERIES all nobility and dignified power.

Realising that no male, not even a god, can defeat the upstart demon, the gods call the goddess Durga into being. She takes some persuading to get involved. What woman cannot identify with being woken up to deal with some crisis that a bunch of men has decided is beyond them? I would roar like all of the lions and tigers on earth too.

Durga is an awe-inspiring creation by the video projection team of ROB & MATT VALE. She is represented by a giant pair of beautiful eyes, impassive and unreadable as the eyes of a goddess should be. BHARTI PATEL provides her powerful voice. Once persuaded, Durga exercises her divine powers and the demon is defeated. Ram and Sita are reunited, harmony is restored and that is the greatest excuse for more wonderful dancing.

And so Thunderstruck comes to an uplifting end. It is the marriage of dancing and visual effects that stays longest in the memory. Those bright patterns and images flowing, soaring, changing. The west would call it ‘psychedelic’ because it cannot bear to credit non-western cultures with anything and would rather make up its own proprietorial terms. But across that lantern space and all around the auditorium a modern magic is accompanying the dance. This magic is undeniably Hindu. When proud bulls dance in light, when sinister foliage creeps, when flames shiver or golden spiders scuttle in throngs they shine – no, they dazzle – with the radiance of colliding faraway suns.

Writer & Artistic Director: Nick Clarke

Choreographer: Ria Meera Munshi

Christopher Jefferies (Lord Ram)

Ria Meera Munshi (Sita)

Vimal Korpal (Mahishasura)

Pushpinder Chani (Lord Bramha)

Pete Cuffe (Lord Shiva)

Kali Chandrasegaram (Lord Vishnu)

Donitta Dany (Dancer)

Craig Hanson (Dancer)

Sonakshi Senthil (Dancer)

Bharti Patel (Voice of Goddess Durga)

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