Satrangi: for optimists only

Satrangi: Seven Stories of Light is a storytelling and dance piece created by and starring Montreal-based, Indian-born performer Deepali Lindblom, who was also behind Poutine Masala. Deepali’s lyrical, Indian-inflected storytelling is front and centre as she recounts seven inspiring tales for the holiday season, culled from friends’ anecdotes. Set in locales ranging from obscure Nepalese villages to chic 60s Paris to a hostage situation in Lima, the multimedia show uses a projected video backdrop, veiled set, South Asian-tinged score and short dance pieces by Deepali and four ensemble dancers to establish the atmosphere for each real-life fable.

The show subscribes to a sort of pay-it-forward ethics, often looking to intercultural interactions for insights into the bizarre forms that love and hope can take. The Indian-inspired dance pieces break up what would otherwise be an overlong mononlogue, and the ensemble’s bright clothes, frequent costume changes and enthusiastic performances added visual punch to the recitation.

The backup dancers were a bit uneven, and seemed to be made up of Deepali’s students, their inexperience apparent in off-timing and asymmetrical poses (although, in all fairness, as anyone who’s ever tried Indian dance classes can attest, it’s exceedingly difficult to learn, often combining balletic posture and precision from the waist up with complex steps that would exhaust a hyperactive five-year-old from the waist down). Deepali is an award-winning dancer and choreographer trained in numerous traditional Indian dance styles, but the flawlessness of her performance often served to highlight the unevenness of those behind her during group choreographies. The dance pieces worked better when they broke rank, as in one of the stronger numbers in which they were all pretending to be tanked, rather than aiming for synchronicity in spite of differences in skill and experience.

The show’s commitment to multimedia presentation extends into the theatre lobby, where visitors can check out an exhibit of photographs related to the stories presented in Satrangi. While some of the video elements projected during the theatre piece worked well, too often these were shaky and home-shot, not compelling enough to work on such a large stage (although they did show one of my favourite clips from Gumnaam!!).

As writer, director, choreographer and star, Deepali’s fingerprints are all over this. She’s onstage pretty much throughout, give or take a short video montage to allow for costume changes, so much of whether you like Satrangi depends on your liking Deepali herself. That said, you probably will. She’s an adorable elf of a woman, and her lilting narration, killer kathak dance chops and frankly optimistic outlook could charm the pants off the Grinch himself.

Many people are faced with a choice each holiday season: do you get swept up in the sights and smells, hum along to “Jingle Bell Rock” as you cruise the Bay for your Mom’s sweet new juicer and snuggle up with ‘nog to watch Santa miracle movies? Or do you kvetch about dumb commodity holidays, bad weather and shitty Christmas carols like a smug killjoy? If you’re riding the line, this could be the thing to push you firmly into one camp or the other. You’ll walk away either shaking your head in wonder at the beauty and perseverance of the human spirit, or, if you’re the least bit cynical, severely disgruntled. ■

Satrangi: Seven Stories of Light is on through Dec. 9, Bain St-Michel (5300 St-Dominique), 8 p.m., Dec. 2 and 9 2 p.m., $20

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