The Kathak Mahotsav featured some virtuoso performances.
Dedicated to the memory of late Pandit Durga Lal, Kathak Kendra's annual four-day Mahotsava left behind lingering memories of the delicacy and subtlety of Kathak rather than its highly assertive rhythms. Prerana Shrimali's sublime recital beginning with “Gangan Ganapati” to just sarangi music sans percussion, revolved round the ‘bols' of Kathak, its nritta, a language complete in itself. Flowing from a still centre, the serenity not betrayed by hurried imperfections revelled in unmitigated ease — the lehra an unbroken refrain providing the anchoring. The “Ta thai tat” flitting sequences with their subtle artistry had stillness in movement, and movement in stillness. With Fateh Singh Gangani's tabla accompaniment, and gurubhai Rajendra Gangani himself for padhant, the aesthetic depths of late Guru Kundanlal Gangani's Kathak were probed. The paran amad sequences, the toda in Misra jati, the Chatur Nayika or ‘Chaturni' according to Prerana's guru, the chakradar with no chakkars, the soft kavits — were all a masterly mood/movement blend.
Equally brilliant in its opposite rasa was the robust Kathak of “Priya Bandhu” Ravi Shankar Misra and Mata Prasad Misra of the Benares gharana. One imagined the bhang-inspired Shiva dancing with Ganga flowing from his matted locks in Shiva Tandav, with Bringi's naad filling the environment, as the uninhibited gusto of the masterly rendition of Dhrupad was followed by the nine-matra tala. This was pristine Kathak in all its glory and like the God who inspires its ecstatic exuberance the amazing virtuosity stemming from a penance-like riyaaz, far from being mindless was seeped in a strong intellectual fire. With perfect understanding, the twosome combined to raise audience heart beats.
Among the many solo presentations, the packed irrepressible joy in accuracy in the small frame of Lucknow's Kum kum Dhar, brought home the specialty of Guru Lachhu Maharaj's Kathak, investing nritta intra-forms with interpretative/thematic content. The gat sequence excelling in subtle aesthetics in body weight balance in the gaits forward and back, the kavits of Ardhanari and Gangavataran and the abhinaya finale for the “Mor Piya Ghar Aye” thumri showed a complete dancer, who despite knee problem hints while squatting and rising, is still a dancer in great form.
Parvati Dutta now settled in Aurangabad, working on Dhrupad and the pakhawaj/mardal traditions, showed admirable laya grasp right from the Hamsadhwani start to the recital, tabla by Charudatt Phadke, pakhawaj by Shukhad Munde and sarangi by Ahsan Ali providing good support. The dancer's exceptional nritta shone despite an inexplicably non-functioning foot mike. Parvati's abhinaya is not in the same class.
Sincerity of intent, humility and reverence for her guru late Durga Lal combined with unstinting work in trying to preserve what was imbibed from the teacher, gave to Uma Dogra's recital a special quality. Very convincing was the interpretation of “Shyam teri bansuri..”. Suchitra Harmalkar presented some of the Raigarh gharana specialities. Very moving was the rare Sur pad “Maiya more daahu bahut…” wherein child Krishna comes to foster mother Yashoda seeking comfort from brother Balaram's accusation of being too dark to be the child of fair Yashoda and Nanda. Kolkata's Madhumita Roy gave a fine recital, though tablist Biplob Bhattacharya failed to echo all the nuanced tones of her footwork. Vocal music proficiency varied. But is it too much to expect vocalists to be sahitya-perfect when they render popular hymns like “Vakra-tunda Maha-kaya..” without introducing non Sanskritic howlers?
The finale by Rajendra Gangani, accompanied by the tabla wizardry of brother Fateh Singh Gangani rained vintage Jaipur gharana compositions, showing how this school of Kathak has its own musicality in rhythmic designing. That everything need not be dominant assertion was particularly significant, in a masterly recital. It is this type of repose in virtuosity which Kathak today seems to veer away from.
Among the duets, Prajakta Raj and Rujuta Soman, disciples of late Guru Rohini Bhate and Guru Roshan Datye were impressive, the percussion by Arvind Kumar Azad and vocal by Anuradha Kuber true to the traditions of their guru. Tastefully costumed, their Kathak projected delicate refinement without aggressive posturing.
Among the many groups, the most sophisticated in terms of ang, group understanding and costume aesthetics was Jaikishen Maharaj's rendering “Bajat taal …nirata..” in raga Hindol and tala Dhamar, a re-worked item based on Birju Maharaj's original choreography. The Kathak Kendra can justly proud of having heightened the emphasis on abhinaya through its Bhava Prasang attempts, though not all presentations were in the highest of proficiency.
At last, in the extraordinary presentation of Sunayana Hazarilal with one line of “Na Manoongi na Manoongi” spun into innumerable variations, did one get a real taste of what interpretative art could be. Presenting the adhama Nayika Surpanakha was another rare example. If there are more ways of elaborating on the line “Sab din hota na ek samaan,” one has yet to experience it.