Among the highlights of the Kathak Mahotsava in New Delhi was the focus on the legacy of Pandit Kundanlal Gangani, but performances from other schools too were a treat.

Like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark was missing the inaugural day of Kathak Mahotsava 2012, with screening of Brijendra Rehi's film (courtesy SNA) on late Guru Kundan Lal Gangani, to whom this year's Kathak Kendra festival was dedicated. Thanks to clashing programmes of Yuva Mahotsava and Kathak Kendra's annual mega event, both under SNA umbrella, one also missed the performances of senior star Gangani disciples Prerana Shrimali, Rajendra Kumar Gangani and Urmila Nagar.

Shashi Sankhla

An exceptional Jaipur gharana guru, with significant contributions, the low-key persona of Pandit Kundan Lal Gangani (1926-1984) remained a mystery. Hence proving invaluable was the morning lecture/demonstration session by Shashi Sankhla. Starting with meeting the benign-faced guru in floppy pyjamas and jubba at her sister's neighbour's house in Baroda, the dancer went on to his scrupulous attention to ang, kalai, breath control, eye movements (undeterred by watering eyes during daily eye exercises), and use of hands, and later “ta thai thai tat” with ang sanchalan. He concentrated on ati-vilambit laya (very slow tempo), and students quietly requesting a faster pace were deliberately made to cope with a killing, non-negotiable ‘chaugun or even athagun tempo, soon realising that command in holding moments longer in slow-moving time was the only way to rhythmic clarity and perfection. Demonstrating rarely, only when a moment held him in thrall, Guruji would show the movement but once – with no repetition — each imbibing to his capacity from that single demonstration. Thaat, the starting point of a recital, was taught only after the disciple had acquired capacity for internalising rhythm, giving it minimal expression. New compositions were rehearsed during holidays, working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. His teaching catered to individual potential, and for one not partial to chakkars he would design a suite of compositions without chakkars with none feeling its absence in the programme quality. Madan, Giridhar, Harish Puri, Jyoti Lal, Nataj, Dhanraj and a closely knit dedicated group diligently trained under “Sir” as he was addressed, before becoming “Guruji”.

Kajal Mishra

Granddaughter of Jaipur gharana's Jailalji, Kajal Mishra, whose father Ramgopal Mishra and Mother Sushmita Mishra are both teachers, demonstrated how the same “Ta thunga taka thunga” was taught differently to different students suiting bodily inclinations. The Misra jati composition set to tabla bols, parmelu and paran incorporating five rhythmic arrangements, the gat toda and the thumri “Mag roko nare savariya” were rendered though on impeccable ‘sama' articulation, the lack of constant riyaz showed up.

Surendra Saikia

Surendra Saikia's Lucknow gharana credentials notwithstanding, he gracefully demonstrated Narayan Prasad's tripalli composition, and “mridanga yati” and “thaat ki chaal”. Criticising today's thaat (“khade hone ka andaaz”) being rendered in the seated position, Saikia also demonstrated with subtle grace “anchal ki gat.” But turning down abhinaya demonstration, pleading ‘lack of practice' was unprofessional, for given the timely intimation about this programme, he should have been more prepared.

Alpana Vajpeyi

Delightfully informative about the lasya/tandav, desi/margi, Lucknow/Jaipur gharanas and Chhatisgarhi Loknritya influences integrated in the Raigarh gharana, Bhopal-based Alpana Vajpeyi brought out the full individuality of this school in her well appointed nritta, padhant and bhav batana andaz. Starting with ati vilambit laya, followed by thaat ki chaal, pakshi paran, ghungat gat, ways of executing bols “tram dit thai that” and Chakradhar Singh's compositions, Alka interpreted “Magme mohe roke Kanha”, singing herself.

Vasanti Vaishnav

After this, the evening performance by Vasanti Vaishnav, while competent, became more of the same. Accomplished Jaipur gharana specialist Rajkumar Javda, his thumri “Kahe Chhedatha” not of the same level as the nritta where his superior percussion skills with tabla and pakhawaj subtleties showed. Parveen Gangani, given rhythmic felicity, makes breakneck drut laya from start to finish, a downpour of rhythmic violence, sans all aesthetics. Overshooting his time span with a needless nine-and-a-half matra presentation as an afterthought was wrong.

Neelima Adhye

Art understated with delicate restraint came out best in Neelima Adhye whose recital was in the typical tone of her late guru Rohini Bhate. The same quiet aesthetics characterised delightful singer Madhuri Joshi, tablist Arvind Kumar Azad and harmonium by Ajay Parad with Asavari Patankar's padhant! Veteran Ram Mohan must allow his dance to speak by cutting out all verbiage into the mike. Hinting malafide intentions behind presumably inefficient attention to technological needs, resulting in malfunctioning foot mikes did not improve his public relations.

Saswati Sen

Saswati Sen's nritta neatness with ginti compositions apart, it was the abhinaya which carried the day — particularly the narrative built round the sacrifice of Panna Bai who to save the Uday Singh dynasty from annihilation substituted the sleeping yuvaraja (heir apparent), stealthily carted away to safety, with her own son who is killed. Presented with emotive control, tragedy carried the audience.

Youngsters

Reviving Pandit Kundan Lal Gangani's old composition Tribandi, rendered by three graceful disciples of Rajendra Gangani (with production assistance from Prerana Shrimali) comprising thaat, uthan, chaal and gat and then gaits and delicate footwork rendered to a Rajasthani Maand music, recaptured Guruji's compositional skills. Also neat was Dhrupad/Basanti Leela, conceptualised with music and dance composition, by Jai Kishan Maharaj whose own son as Krishna danced with Radha and the gopis on a full-moon night.

Time Kathak dancers tapered down niceties of thanksgiving to the Kendra for being invited — eating into limited time slots.