Kathak exponents Mangala and Raghav Rajeev Bhatt say that dance is ever evolving

A western symphony plays on the piano. Her slender fingers gracefully switch from one mudra to the next, her face from one abhinaya to another. He brings vitality on to the stage, as he glides across it with complete creative control. In more ways than one, Mangala and Raghav Rajeev Bhatt are made for each other.

Raghav Raj Bhatt hails from a family of dancers and has grown up watching and breathing art and dance. His father, Gopalraj Bhatt, was one of the first dancers from the city, and as a child Raghav performed in many of his creative ballets. He decided to pursue Kathak, worked towards winning the national scholarship and was selected by the Kathak Kendra in the capital. Raghav got a chance to work with Birju Maharaj. “I learnt and worked under him for 15 years and collaborate with him even today,” he says. Raghav now lives in Moscow, where he teaches Kathak. Mangala learnt Kathak at the Kathak Kendra; needless to say, she too was a scholarship holder. “I don’t come from a family of dancers and even the decision to pursue dance wasn’t laid out on a straight path, it was always meandering,” she says.

Their mutual passion for the dance form blossomed into love and respect. “Both our gurujis, who are otherwise strict and disapprove of romantic relationships, were in fact rooting for us to get together,” Mangala blushes. As the couple worked together in many productions in Delhi and performed in the same circuits, did personal egos ever come in the way? “No!” they both exclaim in unison. “Since we are in the same field, we have an understanding of the nature of work. We appreciate each other’s work and are perhaps each other’s best critics,” says Mangala. Raghav adds, “Passion can be understood best by those who have experienced it themselves.”

Raghav and Mangala take Kathak the extra mile by experimenting and creating new experiences. In Singapore, Mangala paired up with a local dancer and danced to tunes from drums. In Spain, she paired up with a Flamenco dancer. On other occasions, she has performed to the Samba, piano and western classical violin. Mangala has also danced to Sufi music. “Art has more to do with the heart than a rigid structure written down on paper,” she says. Raghav has composed a dance ballet, ‘Sanskruti Sagar’, for which the choreography includes all dance forms. Mangala maintains that they aren’t contemporising Kathak per se and in fact are going with the natural flow of the art form, which adapts to and adopts everything that comes its way. “We just improvise and evolve,” smiles Mangala. And dance, they feel, is like any other form — soul stirring. “I strongly believe that all children must be introduced to one art form or the other, not because they should take it up professionally, but simply because it helps you grow, mature and it gives you ‘sukoon’ (peace),” says Mangala. Education is complete only when art is a part of it, feels Raghav.

In 1992, Raghav and Mangala set up the Aakriti Kathak Kendra to extend the reach of Kathak and tap into Hyderabad’s potential as a culturally charged city. “We never thought that we’ll go wrong, such is the confidence that our gurus instilled in us,” says Mangala. They themselves are conscientious gurus. “My gurus engaged my interest through discipline and evoked a passion. We were successful because of the Guru-Shishya parampara and we wish to continue that,” says Raghav. How far does the new generation accept this parampara? “I understand that to interact with the youth, I need to speak to them in their terms because that is the only way I can get them to understand mine,” says Mangala. Raghav chips in, “The idea is always to evolve dance in such a fashion that each generation understands the art form and its value.”

It has been twenty years since the duo, Mangala and Raghav set up the Aakriti Kathak Kendra in Hyderabad and the journey to becoming the superlatives of Kathak in the city is dotted with a plethora of experiences.

An affair with art

Raghav has also engaged with Kathak through drawing. Raghav is a a qualified artist from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, he has widely exhibited his line drawings. His line drawings are free-flowing strokes sketched using a felt tip pen. The lines are powerful and entrap movement within the canvas. Raghav’s line drawings have been showcased in many exhibitions. He has rendered various collections — on Kathak and other dance forms, including folk and tribal art forms. Raghav has also rendered illustrations for Birju Maharaj’s book, Ang Kavya.