Vijayawada: A Glorious Finale to a Hair-Raising Experience
The city of Vijayawada, in the State of Andhra Pradesh, is indelibly imprinted on BDC for several reasons.
The previous stop on the companies tour was Vizag where two of our dancers became ill. The dancers had gone swimming (in shark infested waters, we later discovered) and when they returned to the hotel, thet found one of the male dancers curled into a fetal position on his bed with hands clenched – a sure sign of dehydration (caused by dysentery). One of the female dancers was a bit green around the gills too. BDC had a very small crew, and it was now decimated. They called the manager of the hotel who immediately produced a doctor who told them the bad news: BDC dancers Paul and Elizabeth would have to rest in bed for at least 24 hours, drinking water and electrolytes and various other potions. This news struck fear in the companies hearts because they were supposed to leave the next morning for a 12-hour train ride to the next step – Vijayawada.
BDC had to do triage, and it looked like this: 4 members of the company left Vizag for Vijayawada the next morning, two dancers, BDC director Jonathan and their lighting/production designer. The company left Susan, a “healthy” dancer, behind to supervise the care of the two sick ones along with the manager of the hotel and his friend, a physician. He said he’d have everyone ship-shape in no time. It was really terrifying for the company to leave, but away they went.
When BDC arrived in Vijayawada, after 2 train rides and 12 hours of traveling (2nd class, non-A/C), the company were met by a riotous group of local organizers who were delighted to see them and ignored their bedraggled condition. Knowing nothing of American modern dance, the fact that the BDC troupe was reduced by half meant nothing to them. They piled the company into a couple of auto-rickshaws and proceeded to drive them around town, pointing to every conceivable surface on which were plastered posters for BDC's performance the next night. BDC director Jonathan Hollander had a sickly smile on his face --- after all, he was 41 years old and felt he was not in dance shape, and would have to fill in for his sick dancer wearing a white unitard. If the company weren't particularly religious, they became religious that night: praying for Paul and Elizabeth’s swift recovery, and for Susan’s arrival in time for the show the next night.
The companies state of mind was not helped by the hospitality: they were billeted in what might have, at one time, been a decent hotel, located on the banks of the river that bisected the town. But upon laying their weary heads on the pillows that night, the true condition of the hotel became immediately apparent: the beds were infested with bugs. There wasn't much one could do in the dark of night with the city already asleep – so the company learned to co-exist with the bugs.
The next morning, BDC visited the theater. The stage was of a reasonable dimension and the 500 seats the organizers promised, would be filled that evening (for once, the company had hoped for a small audience…). This being 1992 and cell phones and e-mail being unknown to India, the company had no way of finding out if the two sick dancers had recovered sufficiently for Susan to hop the train to join them.
So they began the task of rehearsing dances that Jonathan had never performed before (no matter that he had choreographed them; devising steps and actually performing them are two very different things …)
Meanwhile, Jonathan's attention was divided because their technical director, Janet was in need of help.
As he remembers it, there were two pipes loaded with about 12 lights each. That was for the entire theater.
The real trick was that one pipe was hanging over the stage and one pipe was out over the audience, both of which were about 15 feet in the air and THERE WAS NO LADDER IN THE THEATER! The lights were pointed this way and that, and half of them had bulbs that had burnt out (probably in 1957.)
Clearly no one had touched these instruments since they were first installed.
Janet hastily pulled some of the sleepy “crew” into action and they rustled up some wooden platforms (like pallets). These they piled, in no particular semblance of sturdiness, one on top of another, in the center of the stage. When they finished this “construction”, they looked at Janet with the implication, “OK, lady, you asked for it; you climb it!” Janet gamely ascended the rickety structure and managed to focus 2 or 3 lights that were within reach, meanwhile, shifting her weight from side to side in order to counteract that shifting of her unstable platform. As she was doing this, I was having a minor heart attack (being prone to vertigo myself.)
When she came down, Jonathan put his foot down. This couldn't go on.
Meanwhile, an idea came to the company: As they had driven to the theater that morning, they had passed what looked to be a fire house. Light bulb: fire house = ladder! BDC pulled the organizers aside and instructed them to borrow the tallest ladder available at the fire house. They did, and Janet managed to repair and focus the balance of the lights for that evening’s performance. Just as she completed this exhausting task, the stage door opened and Susan walked in, dazed from the train travel – by herself – 12 hours on two trains. The company practically crushed her with our hugs. The show could go on! (albeit with middle-age spread still on call to fill Paul’s roles.)
Yes, the house was full, standing-room-only, with Chief Ministers and Mayors and all. Somehow BDC pulled it off and at the end of the show (fortunately the last piece had the dancers decked out in tuxedos and gowns, not the unitards) they were ushered back on stage during a standing ovation. Chairs that looked more like thrones were positioned on stage, each of the dancers was motioned to be seated, local dancers filed on stage with large bushels in their arms. First, flowered crowns were placed on their heads and then the bushels were turned upside down over them and we were treated to a flower-petal-shower! Souvenirs had been prepared for the company – photographs of each dancer in carved wooden frames. A glorious finale to a hair-raising experience. Paul and Elizabeth missed the entire experience, but turned up the next day in Hyderabad where the companies very generous and deeply caring Vizag sponsors had flown them as soon as they were well enough to travel.