India is one country that is loved by one and all. Our culture, our traditions, our value systems and our larger-than-life colourful Bollywood movies rules the heart and mind of millions world over. But loving a particular culture and living a life that way are totally different aspects of life. Foreigners do love our over-the-top emotional films but promoting it by dancing and making shows out of it is true love for India, I must say. One such love affair with Bollywood is of Bollylicious.
Bollylicious is a Belgium-based dance group consisting of four dynamic dancers — Laura Neyskens, Nakoulou Leblanc, Tom Decuyper and Ayla Joncheere — who love Bollywood films like no one. As Amitabh Bachchan said in Namak Halal, “I talk English, I walk English.” Similarly, Team Bollylicious talks Bollywood and walks Bollywood. In fact, they eat, sleep and even live Bollywood. That is the craze and madness the four have for our films.
Their performances boast success from New York to New Delhi. They were spotted as uprising talent by media in Belgium and they are the first dance company to introduce Bollywood to the Belgian and Dutch television shows such as Dansdate in 2014 and So You Think You Can Dance in 2015. Supported by Belgian choreographer Alain Platel of Les Ballets C de la B they are vying for a place to represent the Indian dance culture on a professional platform which is totally dominated by Western contemporary dance.
Tom Decuyper, one of the team members of Bollylicious, who, in spite, of being a Belgium national is a true Indian at heart had a heart-to-heart conversation with me. Today, I would like to share proudly what he had to say about their love for Bollywood music, dance and of course, India.
What does Bollylicious mean?
Bollylicious is a contraction of Bollywood and Delicious. This was consciously finalised when we founded the collective. Not because we wanted to do Bollywood dance but because we needed a commercially familiar name to present ourselves to the European market. The word Bollywood is basically the only word that connects India and stage performances in an obvious way to most non-Indians. However, our intention was never to be a Bollywood dance group. But our objective is to present Indian dance in a varied and original way.
What all dances do you do apart from Bollywood?
In our work, we do present Bollywood but we perform multiple Indian folk dances and semi-classical dances and integrate multiple other non-Indian dance styles too. We interpret Bollywood not only as dances related to Hindi cinema but also for its liberal hybridity in the positive sense.
How and when did Bollylicious come around?
Laura, Nakoulou, Ayla and I first met each other in 2001 during a Rajasthani kalbeliya dance workshop in Ghent, Belgium. Though we have trained in multiple dance styles, Indian and salsa, contemporary and flamenco, our taste for Indian dance remained common. For almost 10 years we performed in several productions and then decided it was time to develop a project of our own. With Indian dance as a common ground, we founded the dance collective Bollylicious in 2013 and since then, we have performed under this unique name.
What is the mission of Bollylicious?
We intend to uplift Indian dance to a professional level, standing side-by-side other international dance projects. We focus on large accessibility and want to represent more diversity in the current international dance scene. As European audiences are not very familiar with Indian dance, it’s a challenge to present India’s rich traditional culture, by remaining accessible for non-experts without being merely exotic, and by being equally interesting for spectators with a high knowledge of Indian dance.
What attracts you to Bollywood?
We love old Bollywood films. We watch them often and love classics like Pakeezah, Umrao Jaan, Mughal-e-Azam, our favourite songs are Dil cheez kya hai and Chalte chalte. The costumes in the films are magnificent and we try our best to use similar rich and vibrant costumes as seen in the film. From the new films, we have loved Devdas, Bajirao Mastani and Padmavat.
Do we see you enter Bollywood films soon?
We do not want to be in a Bollywood film, standing behind a star, performing some dance steps in the background. Nowadays, most foreign dancers are doing this. We want to do more choreographies, events and performances and be a part of something more historic. Bollylicious is a conscious balancing act whereby they try to be intercultural mediators through dance. In their performances, they fuse and present Indian dance in a contemporary way while respecting its traditions. They aim at being original and simultaneously they reach out by being accessible to audiences. They continue to fight for international respect for Indian dance
Bollylicious takes great pride in receiving respect and appreciation from audiences around the globe. They find it of utmost importance to receive appreciation from the country that inspired them so much, India. Talking about their performance Bollywood legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan said, “I saw entertainment and dance from Bollylicious troupe from Belgium, all Indian moves and songs, they were enchanting and gifted.”
They are excited about the strong support of Indian audiences in India as well as in the Diaspora: Bollylicious has performed for Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his state visit in Brussels, Belgium in March 2016, they have performed at the Jaipur Literature Festival and have been invited by multiple royalties of Rajasthan, including Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur to perform for them and they made their American Premiere at Battery Dance Festival in New York City, Manhattan in 2017.
Team Bollylicious have had the honour to perform for the state reception for King Philippe and Queen Mathilde in Delhi in 2017. Excited seeing them dance for the state reception, Queen Mathilde asked them about their costumes and their visit to India too. In fact happy seeing their performance His Highness King Philippe of Belgium said, “We must be proud to say that the B of Bollylicious also stands for the B of Belgium.”
There two shows have rocked Belgium and other parts of Europe and the world. Bombay Express is a funky Indian style show that takes the audience on a rollercoaster trip across India from royal Rajasthan all the way to funky Mumbai. Four energetic dancers present a diversity of styles, not only based on a multitude of Indian dance forms but inspired on other genres.
During the show the audience remains entertained by the elegant beauty, playful humour and traditional narratives that the dancers of Bollylicious showcase. Their latest production Sitara based on original folk and classical dance is inspired by the concept of Mehfil, an artistic sharing of expressive poetry, music and dance previously presented in an intimate setting of the Indian royal courtyards. This dance show is full of nostalgic music, magnificent costumes and enchanting choreographies, set in a captivating Indian atmosphere. This year end Bollylicious with their Sitara will start their India tour too starting with Chennai in November so if you hear that they are in your city leave all your work and go and see the delicious show by Bollylicious.
Sandip Soparrkar is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with two National Excellence awards and one National Achievement Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]