Many of the 120-odd performers flown in from different parts of the globe for Tuesday’s IPL-6 opening gala are on their first trip to India, have no idea about cricket and know little of Bollywood, if at all.
But a few of them are Olympians, no less. Like Annika Seibel, 29, who had represented Germany in rhythmic gymnastics at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
“We finished fourth, which was our country’s best performance in recent Olympics,” recalls Annika, then a teenager like most girls in competition gymnastics are.
She has come to Calcutta with Sanostra, a show production company based in Germany that has been contracted to perform at the IPL show. “Some of us are teachers, fashion designers and students when we are not performing,” says Annika.
Besides performing with ribbons, the Sanostra girls have been assigned another important duty. Nine of them will escort the IPL captains towards the giant balloons bearing their team logos.
Lest the unfamiliar faces of the captains stump the girls during the show, they have been handed a picture-identification sheet each.
The face on Annika’s printout is that of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. “He is good-looking,” she grins.
Sanostra’s owner Annegret Kohler and husband Bjorn are choreographing all three troupes who will perform in Tuesday’s show.
“We have brought our rhythmic gymnasts, our air trackers and flying drummers,” says Annegret. “Many of the dancers are retired sportswomen. We use their talent for co-ordinated movements to make them perform with balls, ropes, ribbons etc.”
Also with Olympic credentials are the Chinese girls from Red Poppy, a band that had featured in the spectacular opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
Troupe member Zhang Shuhui acknowledges that drumming is more of a man’s terrain but the Red Poppy, the only band of its kind in China, has managed to break the stereotype. “We are very famous,” she declares, before becoming conscious of her broken English.
The girls have not tasted Chinese food in Calcutta but are captivated by what they call the “fly pie”. Hand gestures to explain what they are talking about suggest they have seen a rumali roti being made!
Close by, the German air trackers are busy rehearsing. These acrobats are muscular boys from Berlin who do triple somersaults with the ease of a walk in the park. “I have been a gymnast from the age of six,” smiles Felix Ullerich.
The Bayern Munich fan is surprised to learn that Oliver Kahn played his last international for his club at the stadium where he and the rest have spent all their waking hours for the past three days.
The flying drummers from Cologne have been taking stick work to a different level, literally. With their waists and their drums harnessed to a rope tied to a beam atop the stage, the artistes are pulled up and down as they drum up a beat.
The drums have cordless microphones fitted to them and the drummers move their hands and feet in choreographed movements. “We have performed in Hong Kong, Doha and all across Germany. But this is the first international sports event I will be a part of,” says 25-year-old Niklas Schneider, who is also looking forward to watching an IPL match.
If there is one thing that is getting to all of them, it is the Calcutta heat.
Thomas Piepev comes down at the end of one round of rehearsals dizzy and disoriented. He is flat on his back, perhaps thinking of the climate back home.
Someone reads his mind. “It is snowing in Germany now,” colleague Niklas says, as if the thought would make him sweat less.
The stilt walkers from Teatro Pavana, Holland, grimace as the sun beats down on them at noon. The masks will have to go, they decide.
“The masks make breathing difficult in this heat. So we are planning to do this round without the masks and flapping our wings less,” says group leader Judith Melief, standing 10ft tall in her stilts.
A group of cheerleaders, an IPL must-have since the first edition, has also been flown in just for the inauguration. “Nine of us will do a seven-minute segment,” says Elise Verboer of United Cheers, who has never performed so far away from home. “Back home, we perform to Pitbull’s tracks, so we are very excited that he is coming,” she trills.
Elise describes teammate Kim van Rookhuizer as the “only Dutch girl with the belly shake”, which for her stands for Bollywood dance. “I learnt Bollywood dance from two friends from Surinam,” Kim quips, crooning the opening bars of Desi Girl.
She has seen club cricket in the Netherlands but not heard of Ryan ten Doeschate, the Kolkata Knight Riders’s Dutch recruit.
Rene Piephardt, one of the acrobats, may not have seen a Bollywood film yet but his girlfriend is “very jealous” that he will get to meet Shah Rukh Khan. “Girls in Germany love Bollywood. Dubbed Bollywood films are telecast on TV,” he reveals.
“Bollywood is famous, like Walt Disney,” adds Marsha Van Der Westen, who works for a software company when she is not stilt walking.
There are some IPL veterans in the fold, too. Three of the stilt walkers had performed at the Bangalore opening ceremony, while Xander Nichting had composed music for four out of the previous five IPL shows.
“You will hear my music in three segments tomorrow,” the Dutch composer says, tuning the electric violin that he will play live standing in the middle of dancers in the field.
“I love the traditional Indian touch like the diya dance at the opening. With the best of Asia and Europe coming together, this will be a truly international show,” he predicts.
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