It’s the day after the night before; we’re standing outside Ísafjörðurs old gymnasium and on our way to meet up with Margrét Erla Maack, television presenter and Bollywood dancer. She’s here on unofficial business, in layman’s terms she is on her holiday. Unlike the rest of us though, she is going about it in a slightly different manner. For the second year running she will be hosting a short introduction to Bollywood dancing. We are going to talk to her just before she takes to her craft.
How long have you actually been involved with dancing?
I’ve done belly dancing for around seven years and then Bollywood dancing for some four years now.
So you’ve been all in for the last four years?
Yeah, I’ve been teaching Bollywood for the last three years and belly dancing for the last six.
What got you started?
I had a really bad back, that got me started and then my master teacher in New York got me started on Bollywood dancing to increase my endurance levels.
I assume you have delved yourself into the phantasm that is the world of Bollywood films?
Yes, yes, you have to know what they are singing about, where the film comes from, whether context is one of sadness or joy. Also a lot of the dances we teach are straight from tape, otherwise I’d just be cheating.
This creative field is just immense, much larger than most people can imagine full of vibrant imagery and all manner of techniques, would you agree to that statement?
Definitely, and it shows when people are working with the style. Take La Boheme for instance, which is on at the Harpan. In one of the scenes, where they are introducing Musetta, it’s supposed to be oriental and she is portrayed in a Mata Hari like manner. She is surrounded by a group of girls doing a mixture of belly- and Bollywood dancing and traditional hand symbols, but the one they are doing, means Devil or evil person!
That really was a bit of a shame, especially as there are quite few people that could have been called on to explain how they work and what they mean, it would just have been sorted there and then. I guess that to a lot of people, it’s pretty much the same, but in truth that is as if you’d say Icelandic and German was one and the same language. You’re sitting there going damn! This is the Icelandic opera, this shouldn’t happen.
The reason there is such emphasis on dancing, is you cannot invest that much energy in the screenplay. There is a lot of illiteracy and such a plethora of languages within India that the plot cannot the overly complicated. What they do is keep the plot simple and go all in with everything else, especially the visuals and the sound. That’s where their ambitions lie. In our “western” culture we place the emphasis on the storyline and the plot twists. If you where to take that angle you would lose a large portion of you audience. That is why you’ll see them dancing the important message, over and over again, with slight variations in the words and the symbols, so that it reaches as many people as possible.
”I tend to use pop songs because they are fast and you can really dance to them”
The hand symbols are a lot like the deaf news, and that derives from the old story dancing where the dancers would tell a fairy tale with their movements and signs. They would gesture the symbol for dragon and a lot of it springs from Hindu mythology, where a number of the gods have more than two hands. (Margrét displays in one swift movement what is palpably a dragon with her hand and then she does a rapid movement with hear limbs that again visually portray the idea of a Hindu god) If you don’t have these things 100% you can just forget about it!
When I create new dances of my own, I tend to use pop songs because they are fast and you can really dance to them. In the process I look at the lyrics in Hindi and then in the English translation. Then I move on to special websites that are just dedicated to hand signals.
In belly dancing it’s a lot simpler, you dance softly to a harmonica whereas you up your tempo and dance hard to drums, it isn’t a lot more complicated than that. This on the other hand has a lot of nuances you can really mess up so you have to be careful.
What has always got me, is the incredible escapism that they’re selling!
Exactly! It’s really no more than three major story lines and they are all on the line of “It will happen tomorrow, for you! You’re next” The classic themes are: The guy that wins the lottery, but sill keeps his heart of gold and everyone thinks they didn’t deserve it but he’s such a nice guy. Then you’ll have the Romeo and Juliet/West side story, where you have the lovers that can’t be together. They meet the love of their life and they don’t care if you’re from another cast! That’s where they’re selling hopes to people.
Lastly you have the blockbusters that are set in a theatre or a movie set. The hook being that the lead actor dies, has an accident or gets stinking drunk even. The following scene will be on the set and there is high drama, with people shouting: What will we do now? Is there anyone that knows the score? Who could possibly jump into this role at this hour? And then all of a sudden the janitor with the broom steps up and goes: I’m pretty sure I can do it!
He will then go on to have a romance with the lead actress. In these scenarios the downtrodden character is always getting the chance of a lifetime and will always succeed on the purity of his heart. These movies are a sedative, a massive one! And that is kind of disturbing. We’re sort of going ooh this is looks like such fun. When it’s actually a tranquilizer on a national scale.
These are the major story lines that are going on, and in the ones that have a film within a film (the blockbusters), you might all of a sudden get a cowboy dance routine, it makes no sense whatsoever but it’s in the movie that they are making in the film. They pull out all the stops, because it’s the movie-making world and that is so exiting. This world is simply full of fakery. All the beautiful actresses never ever sing their lines and they don’t hide it at all.
That’s honest in a way?
True, wasn’t it Julie Andrews that sang for Audrey Hepburn in My fair lady? So yes I guess so.
As a final note, I wanted to ask you why bring Bollywood to Aldrei fór ég Suður?
Well, I’m here anyway and this is my third year now coming to the festival. I really love what it stands for, and it’s simply a case of wanting to give something back.
I phoned up the swimming hall and told them what this was about and they were nothing if not accommodating. They said you’re doing this for free, have the gymnastics hall. And you know I’ve got a long summer holiday coming up and I might just come here and run a class, then people will know what it’s all about.
I also feel strongly that this should be more than just the rock festival, that in the daytime there should be some other form of entertainment for the people that hadn’t been out ’til one in the morning the night before.
It is obvious that Margrét works in television, for she is the perfect interviewee, she knows what you’re looking for i.e. more than a simple yes or no answer, which is a nightmare scenario for anyone that has ever taken an interview. Her answers are filling and reach something deeper. You really get the notion that here is someone passionate about what she does and cares for how it is received.
Interview: Guðni Rúnar Jónasson
Photographs: Elín Lóa