Meet the Choreographer - Gauri Sharma Tripathi

Gauri + Shlomo 1st half of photo.JPG

The Bollywood Trip is set to fire up pre-Christmas audiences at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre from 12-18 December. Co-produced by Danish theatre company, Republique, and London’s Southbank Centre, The Bollywood Trip had a three -week run in Copenhagen before the London transfer. The choreographer of this greatly anticipated work is Gauri Sharma Tripathi.
Dancer, Choreographer, Artist-in-Residence at the Southbank Centre, Gauri Sharma Tripathi comes with a big reputation- she has choreographed for Akram Khan and Akademi; performed at a number of international festivals and trained a generation of kathak dancers in London.  Yasmin Khan catches up with Gauri Sharma Tripathi between rehearsals.  

On my way to meet Gauri, choreographer of The Bollywood Trip musical, I was mulling over ‘probing’ questions to ask her.  I reminded myself not to be too critical or become too disappointed if the show turned out to be yet another repetition of a community centre outing with the usual characters on a bus visiting some Viking fishing village in Copenhagen harmonised by wet sari dancing in the Tivoli Gardens.  Instead, I was greeted by a graceful, stylishly-jewelled woman who was full of European funk and Indian sophistication.  When she gave me her take on The Bollywood Trip, my foolish preconceptions were quashed and replaced with goosebumps of excitement.   

The Bollywood Trip is a musical based on a script by Parminder Singh and features Danish actors, Indian and British dancers and live music from a world music orchestra directed by Stephan Grabowski.  We find ourselves at a psychiatric hospital in Denmark. The charismatic Haroon, played by Janus Nabil Bakrawi, is a famous Bollywood star. Or so he says.  This hallucinogenic psychiatric ‘trip’ is full of love, dance, music and the dream of being someone else.  Yes please, me thinks.  Indeed Gauri and I are both lovers of Bollywood new and old - the flamboyancy without apology.  We both enjoy the escapism and the rollercoaster of emotions unleashed from the music, dance and visuals.  Gauri tells me more about Bollywood film dance, quoting the iconic sequences such as are Choli Ke Peechay, Devdas, Dil Cheez Kya Hai which are the modern classics.  However, in The Bollywood Trip, Gauri has taken the reverse step of stripping the ornamentation of Bollywood glitz , "Clean lines and a sharp Danish set break the stereotype" she tells me. 

When creating the choreography, Gauri uses the essence of kathak- it’s compelling rhythms, grace and expression, layered with free movement, folk forms, hip-hop and street influences, sometimes matching occasionally de-constructing the script. But above all Gauri has let her gut and spirit guide her. "Spontaneity is the biggest strength because each song or dance is telling a very different story".
In preparation for the production, Gauri spent a lot of time watching other musicals, especially one from India called Kennedy Bridge. She compared the visuals from India, Denmark and England to see how they might work together.  Her collaboration with the Director, Rolf Heim, was synergistic and they jointly agreed that The Bollywood Trip had to have a distinctive Danish edge.  Contrary to the Bollywood elaboration and extravagance, the visual quality of ‘less is more’ became their mantra.  For her dancers, Gauri selected two artists from the UK and two from India.  These were people she knew could learn fast and deliver and all four are 'all singing and dancing’ performers with a kathak spine but who have varied experience and versatility.

The most challenging part of the commission was the final staging and ‘teching’ of the piece and the threading together of all the different parts of the production- music, lighting, set, speech and movement to create a unified whole.  It’s clear that the whole experience from start to finish has been a joy for Gauri and each process, no matter how challenging, has been deeply satisfying.  I am intrigued by the forthcoming production combining the glamour of Bollywood with the functionality of IKEA! No doubt Gauri has some surprises up her sleeve, I can’t wait for it all to be revealed.

The Bollywood Trip opens at QEH, Southbank Centre on Monday 12th December.