3 brothers, 6 feet, 1 sensational dance act
It’s easy to see why Sinbad Phgura is a successful showman.
As the eldest brother of dance trio the Twilight Players (completed by siblings Ammo Too Sweet and Jimi The Quiff), he is the epitome of retro-chic in a three-piece Zoot suit, two-tone shoes and brimmed hat placed askew.
Sinbad captains his ship with a flamboyance, verve and energy that belie his 40-odd years.
That’s probably because, for some 30 of those years, he’s been living his art: a dance form called Open Hand.
Indian audiences got their first taste of Open Hand in Anurag Kashyap’s film "Dev D.", in which the Twilight Players dance a cheeky M.J.-meets-L.A.-hipster number in a seedy bar while the protagonist spirals ever deeper into drunken debauchery.
The dance style, however, is a precursor of hip-hop, breakdance and street dancing, dating back to the early 1980s when it was popularized by a British underground group called Cool Pockets.
Integrating elements of original Californian funk styles like popping and locking from the 1960s and 1970s, Open Hand dance is characterized by jerky, explosive moves, interactive mime, body isolations, gymnastics, acrobatics and gravity-defying steps. It can be performed to anything from funk and disco to “new wave” styles like ska, punk, electro, West Coast swing and Latin jazz.
Michael Jackson’s signature moves came from this school of dance; in fact, West Coast street dance pioneer Jeffrey Daniel taught M.J. the ‘backslide’, which the King of Pop went on to make world-famous as the Moonwalk.
Jeffrey Daniel was also Sinbad’s first teacher. He had a tremendous influence on the then-adolescent boy who fell in love with the dance style, much to his father’s disapproval.
Growing up in Hertfordshire, a desi ‘hood just outside Greater London, British-Punjabi Sinbad (whose real name, he reveals proudly, is Gurpaul Singh) was surrounded by Indian cinema of the 1960s, and became part of Britain’s “OG” (Original Generation), an underground movement inspired by hip-hop and Indian music.
He integrated the glitz of 1950s Havana, classic 1960s Indian cinema and the Americana Soul movement of the 1970s to create a distinctive, evolving brand of dance, music, fashion and lifestyle.
Vintage is suddenly fashionable, but we’re the real deal— Sinbad Phgura
To add to his father’s dismay, Ammo and Jimi joined the fray, and the Twilight Players were born.
In their time they have seen gradual, but steady, success.
They’ve toured around the world, opening shows for stars including Madonna (on her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour) and performing at notable festivals such as Glastonbury.
More recently, they’ve returned to their roots in India, where they’re now in hot demand thanks to the efforts of U.K.-based talent consultant Geeta Handa. But Sinbad -- himself a keen DJ, photographer, filmmaker and traveller -- is quick to clarify that the Twilight Players aren’t just dance guns for hire.
“Dance is just the vessel through which to share our ideology,” he says. “What we do is an authentic expression of who we are. Vintage is suddenly fashionable, but we’re the originals, the real deal, and we’ve never compromised our values. Funnily enough, that’s why I’ve had a long career -- otherwise we wouldn’t be fresh.”
They don’t do weddings or bar mitzvahs, and have even turned down lucrative Bollywood film offers if they didn’t feel there was enough creative freedom or a match in artistic sensibilities.
“It’s the things you don’t do that also make you who you are, not just the things you do do,” Sinbad says.
The Twilight Players see great potential in the evolving urban arts scene in India.
“There are incredibly creative people here,” says Sinbad. “But I still feel there’s room for growth. The techno-kids and the hard rockers and the Bollywood aficionados needn’t be in separate camps; through our performances, we bring together a common love for good music and dance.”
They'll throw in bhangra, a Sonu Nigam track or the theme song of "Rang de Basanti" in between ska, punk, 1950s bossanova and swing -- and somehow, magically, it works wonders.
“Listen without prejudice,” Sinbad advises. “Remember your roots; be open to new sounds.”