Dance Like a Man

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Mahesh Dattani's play ''Dance Like a Man'' opens with a young dancer, Lata, bringing her fiance, Viswas, home to meet her parents. Their hopes, and the family histories that emerge from their conversation, are quietly amusing, and the missteps and misunderstandings that trip up everyone when Lata's parents return to the house are very funny. It is also somehow reassuring to know that families on the other side of the globe are as fractious and occasionally dysfunctional as our own. But be wary. This play deals with the recent, and ancient, history of India in personal terms, probing three generations of conflict against a background that evokes the highest achievements of ancient Sanskrit theater and classical religious dance. Some of the turns in this story are harrowing, and the bitterness of the characters can be deeply unsettling. The play is one of two being presented at the TriBeCa Performing Arts Center by the Indo-American Arts Council of New York in what it hopes will be a series of festivals of Indian theater. The other play in this year's program is ''Once Upon a Fleeting Bird'' by Vijay Tendulkar, who has built an international reputation by a lifetime of political provocation as well as by his work in theater. In ''Dance Like a Man'' Jairaj and Ratna, a couple who have been Bharatanatyam dancers since youth, but not spectacularly successful ones -- ''we lacked the brilliance and magic to dance like gods,'' they confess sorrowfully at the end -- place all their hopes on the imminent dancing debut of Lata, whose career promises to be outstanding. But as the story develops, Ratna reveals a deep jealousy of her daughter and an almost imperious contempt for her husband. His life, in turn, was disastrously distorted by his rebellion against a father who was deeply opposed to the son's cultivation of ancient religious and artistic disciplines represented by the dance to which he and Ratna were dedicated, and by the death of their first child. Mr. Dattani is...
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