Review: The Boy Who Danced On Air Off-Broadway3 min read

The Boy Who Danced On Air: An Afghan Tale of Love and Abuse

TROY IWATA in THE BOY WHO DANCED ON AIR. 6. Photography by Maria Baranova
Troy Iwata. All Photos by Maria Baranova.

The Boy Who Danced On Air: An Afghan Tale of Love and Abuse

By Ross

In terms of topics and stories that are used as base material for a musical, The Boy Who Danced On Air will rank up there along side Kid Victory as one of the most utterly disturbing but unique ones utilized.  With a book and lyrics by Charlie Sohne, and music by Tim Rosser, this creation certainly soars through the air, while also stumbling at moments in its sincere treatment. In some ways, a musical based on the upsetting Afghan tradition of bachabaze makes a certain amount of sense, maybe more so than the abduction story told by Kander and Pierce (click here for my review). The show, inspired by a 2010 documentary titled, “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan” revolves around the practice of young boys bought by wealthy married men to be trained as dancers for the entertainment of their social circle of men. Tradition and religion in Afghanistan forbid women to dance in public, but boys can be made to dance in women’s clothing for the wealthy. That practice is seen by some as acceptable (although not legal).  So a musical about dancing boys feels at least musically connected and their powerlessness combined with their isolation and pride in their dance (choreography by Nejla Yatkin) is sufficiently inspirational for those songs about internal struggle. The problem, or at least the most glaring and disturbing part is that the boys, sold by their poor families are often sexually and physically abused by their owners and sold for sex to those same powerful men who viewed their dancing. That component may tip the scale a bit too far for some.

A Real Boy, This Pinocchio is in Real Need of a Makeover

Deven Kolluri, Jonathan Raviv, Nikhil Saboo, Osh Ghanimah.

I’m not one who believes that a topic, even one as disturbing as this, is unusable as source material.  Theatre is a place where uncomfortable stories should be told, even stories that are outside of the norm. I mean, there is a 9/11 musical right now, Come From Away, that is inspirational and magnificent, much to everyone’s surprise. Many shows, including the previously mentioned, Kid Victory and the macabre Sweeney Todd tackle very taboo subjects using song to explore the inner thoughts and emotionality of characters both sympathetic and not. This is definitely the case of these boys, sold as young as 10 years old, they are basically slaves used for entertainment and sex, who are abused at the whim of their owners for money and prestige. There is one beautiful song after another about that inner pain and confusion, just the kind of thing musicals do so well at. After years of abuse, they are then discarded into the world penniless once the boy starts to show signs of becoming a man.  A truly upsetting and horrific practice that even the police in Afghanistan deny exists, but as seen in numerous investigative news stories, this ancient tradition prevails to this day. (for the full review: click here)

Jonathan Raviv, Troy Iwata.

Posted on May 28, 2017