Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Rockettes: High Kicks In Solidarity with their Bollywood Sisters

The shocking news from Mumbai coincided with our national day of Thanks-giving. It’s true every day that people are suffering at home and abroad. But this was an extreme juxtaposition between the formal day we give thanks for family, friends, and the beauty of this nation, and people being individually murdered by unspecified terrorists. It became even more heart-wrenching when we learned of the death of the Virginia dad and the Brooklyn Rabbi and his wife.

Parallel to this shocking situation, and not related to it, was the AP reporting on Thanksgiving eve that “The FBI has warned New York area law enforcement of a ‘plausible but unsubstantiated’ al Qaeda suicide bomb attack against the area’s commuter rail systems over the holiday.”

This was the backdrop to my Thanksgiving pilgrimage to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

The first practical issue: do I get on the subway? Should the family get on the Long Island Rail Road to come in? We briefly thought the answer to both would be “no.” But that feeling of “they win if we change our lives” kicked in, and so we partook of mass transit.

The Christmas Show was reimagined last year by Linda Haberman for its 75th anniversary. I only saw it one other time, somewhere in the nineties, but it was clear that she brought the experience into the 21st century and completely paid off on the word “SPECTACULAR” above the lowly “show.” It’s hipper, sleeker, and more WOW. It is a thrilling ninety minutes of spirited spectacle, from Santa’s 3-D sleigh ride into town, to an amazing number with the Rockettes on a doubledecker bus that really looks like it’s barreling through the city. Haberman has given the Rockettes more sophisticated choreography than of old to illuminate their precision beyond the kick line.

The Living Nativity has been shortened, as well as the Nutcracker excerpt. From the live pit orchestra that swings a mean beat to the live fireworks that go off over the “New York sequence” to the multitude of dancing Santas, the show has an exuberance that is hard to find in our post-ironic times. Even the most jaded soul would have to smile somewhere along the line, and kids of all ages were squealing with delight.

It was sobering in the evening then to learn more about the killing in Mumbai. I travel a lot, and I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in the hotel restaurant for dinner and be confronted by terrorists shooting people in the head, slitting the throats of others.

Some commentators from the Indian Times are calling this the Indian 9/11. Certainly as a watershed moment, but what is so different between the two is that the 9/11 terrorists killed like aerial bombers. These killings were hand-to-hand combat, except that their victims were unarmed civilians. It can’t get more vicious or depraved.

At this moment, who the terrorists are is unclear. What do they want? That is not clear either. In nonpolitical terms, it’s more what they don’t want. These terrorists don’t want anyone to imagine and create. They don’t want anyone to sing and dance, and to make a business out of it. They don’t want to see some people lighten the troubles of others by entertaining them.

Well, too bad dirtbags. Human nature is hard-wired to create. For some, that leads to the crazy, inspired idea that 36 women in matching outfits can dance with such precision that it will be a wonder to behold. For some, creativity leads to the singing and melodrama of a visually stunning Bollywood film. These things are not going to disappear just because some malcontents don’t like them.

Suketu Mehta, a professor of journalism at New York University who grew up in Bombay (before its independent name), is the author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. This is from what I’m sure will be a much-quoted Op-Ed essay, “What They Hate About Mumbai”:

“The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. Snip. But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever.

So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.”

Amen to that. The Rockettes will keep kicking, Bollywood will keep singing, as the world tells the terrorists, NO.