A pair of doors opens and three elegantly dressed dancers step out onto the veranda of Whig and Clio Halls. After some sweeping shots, the dance begins: Twirling dresses, sparkling jewelry, and energetic movements fill up the video screen as Naacho, Princeton’s multi-style South Asian dance group, launches their 20th anniversary show — “Shaandaar: A Royal Affair.”
Naacho serves as a hub of South Asian life on campus, and their show brought out the diversity of the community.
Filmed by Justin Chae ’24 and directed by Suhani Balachandran ’25, one of Naacho’s publicity chairs, the promotional video that introduced the show was soon replaced by the dancers themselves as they took to the stage beaming at the large audience that awaited them. For the next two hours, they waltzed and spun over Frist Theatre’s stage to lively applause, blending old with new in a dizzying assortment of music and dance, dressed in colorful garb.
According to their program, Shaandaar means “splendid, majestic, grand, pompous, [and] stately.” Looking at their outfits, these adjectives seemed apt: From gemstone-embedded sarees that dazzled as the light reflected on them, to bandhgala embellished with traditional scarves and embroidery, the costumes radiated dignity and nobility, perfectly embodying the “Royal” in “Royal Affair.” Shrouded in multicolored lights that accentuated the clothes’ vibrant chroma, Naacho’s costumes were designed with the intention of bringing the traditional aesthetics into the modern day, allowing the traditional and the contemporary to coexist through the art of dance.
“I think having a variety of traditional and modern styles is nice because it gives each person the opportunity to find their space and style, while also experimenting with new forms that may not come as naturally,” said Ananya Grover ’24, one of Naacho’s Gear Chairs. “We also try to represent the variety of classical, folk, and contemporary styles of dance from across the Indian subcontinent, and I’ve heard many people say they really enjoy the range of genres we perform.”
Grover is a head Web Design and Development Editor at The Daily Princetonian.
Diverse representation is of utmost importance to Naacho, portraying diverse South Asian culture with no one country’s craft overshadowing another. I could see a clear mix of influences on the show, as the different music choices and costume designs communicated unique story lines and traditions. Yet, it did not feel like a conglomerate of disparate styles and histories; Naacho was able to present a unified narrative of South Asian culture by embracing cohesion between each and every piece of choreography.
“Every piece of ours is a different dance style,” Balachandran wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “We range from classical (inspired by the ancient Indian classical dance form bharatanatyam) to hip hop. We cover different places, with raas (a Gujarati festival folk dance), bhangra (a Punjabi folk dance), Tollywood, and Bengali-inspired pieces.”
With that mixture of influences, Shaandaar wove a tale of courtly drama, feminism, and star-crossed love that elevated the richness of each culture individually and collectively at the same time. To supplement that tale, the show also played a sequence of video sketches that filled in the transitions between dances. I was strongly reminded of the film “Crazy Rich Asians” when watching it, as it also featured rich in-laws who disapproved of a new lower-class suitor. Though, to be fair, Naacho’s version was composed of slightly more malevolent entertainment: Blood was shed, people were killed, and diamond swords from Minecraft were sharpened against Ai Weiwei statues.
Despite the humorous tone, the transition videos were one more effective way Naacho tried to fuse different disciplines and generations of culture: A tale as old as time is reinterpreted from a humorous modern perspective through the lens of South Asian dance, with Naacho’s own members as the actors.
There was a change in dance and music styles as the show continued. Suddenly, performers were coming out in minimalistic all-black outfits and dancing hip hop to songs such as “DNA” by Kendrick Lamar and “Going Bad” by Meek Mill ft. Drake, but also “Garmi” by Badshah and Neha Kakkar ft. Varun Dhawan. In this performance, there was a meaningful bridge not just between the past and the present, but also between South Asian and American culture.
“Our show music selections, costuming, fillers, and style breadth really showcase the dual South Asian and American identities that so many of our company members share,” Balachandran told the ‘Prince.’
Grover, who co-choreographed the lyrical piece titled “Pyar Ki Yeh Kahani Suno (Listen to this Story of Love)”' with Madison Esposito ’23, said that Naacho “helps people from all backgrounds express themselves through South Asian dances.”
Their choreography was based on Esposito’s contemporary dance experience and Grover’s past training in the North Indian classical dance form of Kathak. Through the piece, Naacho magnifies the diversity and stories of its members, while paving the way for a new shared history to develop.
“For historical context, Kathak originated as a Hindu devotional dance form and then traveled to the Mughal courts in medieval North India, where it incorporated Persianate Islamic cultural elements,“ Grover explained. “It has a rich history of dance dramas and storytelling, especially to tell tales from the Hindu epics and of the love between Radha-Krishna. My vision for the piece was to draw from this storytelling tradition to weave together these multicultural influences.”
Shaandaar concluded with three dances: one with an all-seniors cast called “Uproar: Bhangra (ft. Senior Section)”; another with only new members called “A Newb Reign: Newbs”; and the last with the entire company called “Shaam Shaandaar: Closer.” In keeping with the rest of the show, these dances commemorated the old, welcomed the new, and enthusiastically celebrated everyone — a cornerstone of Naacho’s style.
With a final call, “N double-A-C-H-O,” the show ended. Members hugged each other in jubilation and the audience rushed the stage, eager to congratulate their friends on a fantastic performance.
“Naacho was my first family on campus, and where I’ve met some of my closest friends,” said Balachandran. “Some of my favorite college memories are with this lovely, crazy family, and I’m so grateful for the chance to practice dance, one of my passions, with such amazing people.”
Daniel Liu is a contributing writer for the Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ He is a first year from Long Island, New York, and he plans on studying mathematics. He can be reached at email@example.com.