Students of Delhi Kathak Kendra put up an impressive display at the performance tests held recently

Crammed into shrunken space at Bahawalpur House, facing an unfortunate change of location bringing with it the endemic problems of accessibility and safety, topped by day and night vigil required to save hostel students from a food poisoning trauma, for the Delhi Kathak Kendra the year gone by has been a nightmare of battling one crisis after another. That overcoming these challenges talent is evolving from the Kendra, was the most reassuring thought after watching the performance tests held at the LTG auditorium for students at the finish of the three-year diploma and post-diploma courses. Amidst the understandably varying levels of proficiency were, arguably, some promising talents, which hopefully will make themselves felt in the Kathak scenario in the course of time.

Some of the male talent came out with flying colours. Minhas, from the Banaras gharana, gifted with height and stage presence and groomed under Rajendra Gangani at the Kathak Kendra, performs with an ease and joy that stems from a ceaselessly unruffled inner attitude. His tala Dhamar presentation was an exercise combining aesthetics with authority and confidence. The open-ended improvisational elegance of Kathak is proven in his understanding of minute aspects of tala. Even in the bhajan “Pavan manda sugandha sheetal” the evocative Rama imagery was reinforced in the intervening nritta passages, which served a purpose instead of being pure decorative diversion.

Yet another very stylish male performer was Viswadeep, trained under Nandini Singh for years and now under Prerana Shrimali. His reputation preceded him, judging by the overly vociferous claps and whistles greeting his stage entrance. Tastefully clad, the confidence and clarity of Upaj in Dhamar followed by Drut Teental and the flowing smoothness of chakkars at varying speeds in the same bandish, the graceful gaits in Gat Nikas and the involvement evoked in the Surdas Pad, plus the confident parhant, were all signs of a complete dancer.

Fighting ill-health, it was brave of Praveen Parihar to take the floor on the last day. Despite a very tall, overtly thin figure tending to give dance movements an exaggerated angularity, this dancer, trained under Rajendra Gangani, through his Teental improvisations and involved rendition of “Gurubin aisi kaun kare” revealed excellent technique.

Mohit Sridhar, trained under Rajendra Gangani, revealed very good command over laya and technique. But with the distraction caused by the wayward singing of the Tulsidas bhajan, it became difficult to concentrate on the dancer’s interpretative abilities.

A still centre and focus, clean and chiselled movement contours, along with a grasp of fractional intervals of tala and laya — some of the footwork in Dhamar and later Teental was aesthetically musical in the tonal changes — make the slight-figured Shivalika Kataria a very contained dancer. Trained initially under Harish Gangani and then under Nandini Singh and now Prerana Shrimali, her Kathak reflects a quiet joy. The internalised abhinaya in the Thumri in Misra Pahadi “Chhado chhado Bihari” had the same restrained aesthetics portrayed while dissuading, while being pleased, the waylaying ‘Bihari’ – prompted more because of the prying eyes of other women.

The allure of Kathak seems to have spread to the South too, judging from the very smooth and graceful dancing of Athira Giridharan, a student of Jaikishen Maharaj. Winsome bits of Teental, Jhaptal and Dhamar were presented with a Misrajati Paran and a Parmelu. That Athira has a feel for interpretative dance was seen in “Shyam more Shyam” in the intensity of the Gopi searching for the elusive ‘ita uta Shyam”.

Also full of grace was Jaya Bhatt, yet another disciple of Jaikishen, her Krishna Dhyanam Thumri and Dhamari presentation, apart from precision, having a flow of movement.Priya Garg, also being trained under Jaikishen Maharaj, seemed to make her ashtamangal tala nritta never-ending. And she would be well-advised to get over the tendency to keep her mouth open while dancing. It is not her technique but her planning of the programme that needed better balance. Ruchika was another brave dancer, a student of Jaikishen, to attempt nritta in 17 matras. She could have lessened the pace of her dance so as to give more clarity and finish to movements.

Vandana Kaushal, being trained under Prerana Shrimali, in a performance that had a listless start became more animated with the Hori gat bhav, her chakkars acquiring more of a spirited rendition in the tarana in Jhaptal.

Characterised by grace, despite what seemed a very heavy ghagra costume, was Megha Sharma, who trained under Krishna Mohan Misra. Her ghunghat gat, and the chalis with dips and elevations were full of allure. In the thumri “Kaun gali gayo Shyam” (Shambhu Maharaj’s speciality being taught by his son), the subtle nuances woven around the word ‘gali’ needed more experience for a definitive representation, though one has to praise the attempt at trying what very few dancers will touch for fear of being compared with the incomparable.

There were other aspirants; the ICCR scholarship-holders from other cultures, like Monica Donaji Portello and Magdalina Niernsee, who added that element of ‘otherness’ with which Kathak students should interact.

The extreme dependence on somebody in the musical crew for parhant, with many dancers reciting a chosen couple of bandishes, made it difficult to gauge the extent of grip over this very important aspect of Kathak. Also, the very neatly arranged footwork, with the tabla following every nuance, looked very structured and pre-set in many cases, making one wonder how strong these dancers were in weaving improvisational passages into the musical refrain.

One was treated to the unprofessional sight of earrings and trinkets from the body dropping off while dancing. Opting for simplicity with elegance and avoiding ornaments that hinder free movement is better.

It was very heartening to see the young Pakhawaj percussionists Raminder Singh and Rishi Shankar Upadhyay playing Dhamar and Chautaal respectively. It was wonderful to hear Shivastuti, Parampari Parans, Farmaishi Chakradhar and Prastaar on this instrument, which, thankfully, is getting the right kind of attention in the Kendra.

Young tabla player Hanuman Dayal, groomed under Govind Chakravarti, also acquitted himself with credit.

The singing was mixed. Why so many curves should come into the singing of a Thumri like “Chado ji bihari nari dekhe sagari” one cannot understand. When Shipra Doshi was dancing, this type of vocal accompaniment made the Thumri sound quite different from its original version.

Thumri singing for dance would seem to be a lost art. Along with more intense training in abhinaya, singing would seem to be an aspect the Kendra needs to pay more attention to.

And sound balancing is an eternal problem. To add to the general medley was the sound technician who, with shoes, merrily walked on to the stage in the middle of a performance to adjust the mic — though, thankfully, better sense seemed to have prevailed after the first day!