Kathak with instant applause for its footwork and rhythmic ‘kamaal' has become so much the norm lately that the softer and more delicate shades of the dance form have been relegated to the backburner. However, Parwati Dutta performing with her group for the Music Academy Dance Festival was different. With her keen research-oriented mind, in ‘Vistaar,' by thematically linking scenes reminiscent of the Durbar culture in North India, which shaped Kathak aesthetics to a large extent, she brought to the fore the quieter and more subtly evocative aspects of the dance form.

The excellent sound tape for the dance provided by the dancer's intense involvement as director and guru of Mahagami Gurukul in Aurangabad, with top dhrupad and pakhawaj artists, coupled with inspiration from the Ellora sculptures, made the production unique. The initial twenty minutes with short items such as, ‘Savaro Rang Bheeji,' depicting Holi revelry woven round the Radha-Krishna theme, rendered by what appeared as students requiring more finish, left the modest audience undecided. The non-functioning foot mikes that made even the minimal footwork flourishes go unheard did not help the situation.

What followed was ‘Srijan Teerth' spanning 100 years in history. Starting with the sonorous Dhrupad in 10 matras contributed by Akbar's court, the production flowed to a ‘bandish' and ‘khyalnuma' in Raag Devgiri Bilaval, ascribed to Gopal Nayak at Devgiri court.

The first heavy tones of pakhawaj percussion in Chautaal were examples created by that musical-percussion genius of the Raigarh court, ruler Chakradhar Singh, whose interaction with both Lucknow and Jaipur gharana gurus along with his own famous onomatopoeic compositions led to a special Raigarh Kathak gharana. Compositions such as ‘Dal Baadal,' and his famous ‘Pancha Jyotir Ling,' and the Kavit, ‘Chandrabadani Mrigalochani,' were presented. Swati Tirunal's ‘Chaliye Kunjan Me' was also included though its links with Kathak are blurred.

Wajid Ali Shah's thumri emerged as the famous base for abhinaya in Kathak . Of this court culture was Maharaj Bindadin (from which family hails Pandit Birju Maharaj) whose Lakshana geet, ‘Nirtata Dhang,' was rendered.

Tansen court Dhrupads in Gurjari Todi dedicated to Empress Mriganayani of Gwalior followed by some mnemonic syllables chanted in ‘padhant' ended the recital. Soft gestures, controlled gaths and gaits and quiet ‘thata' postures with minimal footwork wizardry characterised this rare presentation, not quite understood by the audience conditioned to Kathak of rhythmic razzmatazz.

Blurring boundaries

‘Allah' in the words of the Tamil litterateur Subramanya Bharati, sung in the Carnatic medium by Aruna Sairam and set to Adi talam, rendered in the Odissi form, in the Music Academy, regarded often as the bastion upholding orthodox art classicism! You cannot be more inclusive and ‘unified' than this in disregarding boundaries wrought by language, religion and genres of music! This was the concluding note to the performance by Srjan, the institution begun by late Kelucharan Mohapatra, now headed by his son and heir Ratikant Mohapatra.

The group began with a neat Dasavatar based on the textual framework of Geeta Govind verses set to a Ragamalika and Talamalika in Laxmikant Palit's music. Ratikant's dance composition was rendered by six of his students. His choreography had the evening's best manifestation in the Yugmadwanda Pallavi in Bageshri and Ekatali, a composition of Raghunath Panigrahi – the well trained dancers presenting a synchronised rendition, with Ratikant's sensitive percussion accompaniment on the Pakhawaj.

Bringing out the theatrical element Jatayu Moksha from Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas, with music by Laxmikant Palit, in showing Sita's abduction, Jatayu's stiff resistance to Ravana before his chopped wings render him unfit to fight and Jatayu's final moments with blessings from Rama, used two dancers, each taking on more than one role. But what made the suspension of disbelief in the viewer somewhat difficult was aggressor Ravana, the victim Jatayu, with helpless Sita becoming Rama.

Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's Vande Mataram in Raga Desh as choreographed by late Kelucharan Mohapatra was the best of the four presentations – the images portraying Nature and the group formations were most aesthetic. A particularly delicate touch came from the fluttering of the hands at the end suggesting the tricolour gently moving in the breeze.