"Rhythm India -- Bollywood & Beyond" celebrates dance from Bollywood to Hollywood. Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

India or Argentina?

That is the question when curtains rise simultaneously at 7 p.m. on March 23 in two Downtown venues. The dynamic, percussive dance productions will burst onstage for one night only, so you have to choose.

Will it be the articulate bare feet of Joya Kazi Unlimited expressing the rhythmic beat of the tablas at the Byham Theater or the thunder of MALEVO’s stomping boots at the Pittsburgh Playhouse?

You decide. But pick one.

“Rhythm India — Bollywood & Beyond”

“Western dance can exist without music; Indian dance and music are intertwined,” says award-winning choreographer Joya Nandy Kazi. Heels, toes and the bare flat foot — “without the metal plate of a tap shoe” — are rhythmic instruments, she says. 

Kazi’s artistic voice speaks to the rhythms of Indian dance, ranging from commercial musicals to classical, folk and traditional forms. 

Her “love letter to the motherland” — “Rhythm India Bollywood & Beyond” — offers 90 minutes of hit songs, many popularized in Hindi musicals (aka Bollywood production numbers) and samples of authentic Indian dance forms packaged with pre-recorded music and wrapped in opulent custom-made costumes.

Award-winning director and choreographer Joya Nandy Kazi. Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

“I wanted to elevate Indian dance,” says the Mumbai-born Kazi, who established her California-based company in 2004, has choreographed for the Netflix series “Never Have I Ever” and continues to strive for authenticity while flexing her creativity.

“I understand what art looks like in both worlds,” says the Los Angeles resident, who descends from Islamic and Hindu cultures and has extensively studied both Indian and western dance techniques.

She augmented Indian dance movements with pop and hip-hop to enrich the show’s Bollywood choreography and hopes it resonates with audiences “even if they don’t understand the lyrics,” Kazi says.

Additional offerings embrace folk rhythms and classical styles, including Bharatanatyam, Manipuri, Odissi and the Kathak of the Muslim/Hindu Mughal Empire, which features the percussive ghungroo, an anklet of weighted bells worn to accentuate intricate footwork.

Kazi is performing with her 14 versatile company artists, which shortchanges her personal rehearsal time, but as director, “My goal is to make the bodies look amazing and the dances look phenomenal,” she says.

The show “is a special opportunity to immerse yourself in the culture and rhythm of India,” says Kazi. “You won’t see anything else like this anytime soon.”

MALEVO dance company. Photo courtesy of MALEVO.


With precision footwork, synchronized boleadoras and pounding drums, MALEVO easily danced its way into NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” season 11 semifinals and wowed U.S. audiences.

MALEVO (which translates as ruffian) was founded in 2015 by dancer/choreographer Matias Jaime. His Buenos Aires-based, all-male troupe of 13 dancers and four musicians specializes in Malambo, a traditional Argentine male, competitive dance associated with the gaucho mystique born on the Pampas.

“I dedicated my life to Malambo because I love this dance. I always had the dream of showing and sharing this passion and this art all over the world,” says Jaime, who also studied flamenco, tango and urban dances.

Far from the Pampas, “MALEVO” — the 90-minute proscenium production — delivers a high-intensity performance fueled by movement, fashion and live music. The bomos legüeros (drums carved from hollow tree trunks) are predominate but are joined by accordion, violin and Latin percussion.

While Jaime shifts the aesthetic and emphasizes unity over competitiveness, he maintains authenticity by starting from Malambo’s traditional base. 

“The feet are our instruments to make music,” he says.

MALEVO dance company was created by director, choreographer and dancer Matias Jaime and incorporates boleadoras, hunting weapons made from leather and stones. Photo courtesy of MALEVO.

Gaucho boots fly through complex choreography of rapid-fire stomping, stamping, striking and brushing the floor with the soles, heels and outer edges of the boots. Tango-like twists and flicks provide punctuation.

Rhythm, musicality and synchronization are essential to mastering the choreography. 

“After obtaining that security, we can start dancing without  thinking and the best happens,” he says, noting that “the greatest public enthusiasm is for the parts with a high degree of synchronicity and speed.” 

Jaime attributes percussive dance’s allure to the beat. “It’s what connects us with the earth, with time,” he says.

“The connection that we feel with others through an expression as pure and authentic as this dance is priceless,” says Jaime. “I believe audiences should watch the show because they will see and feel something unique and unrepeatable.”

India or Argentina? It’s a coin toss.

“Rhythm India — Bollywood & Beyond,” Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St. Buy tickets.

“MALEVO,” PNC Theatre in the Pittsburgh Playhouse at Point Park University, 350 Forbes Ave. Buy tickets.

Karen Dacko is a dance writer and critic whose work has been featured in Dance Magazine.