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Updated: March 3, 2014 14:42 IST

Taking Kathak beyond the connoisseur

Olympia Shilpa Gerald
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Kathak danseuse Mahua Shankar, performing at the three-day cultural festival held at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Theatre, to mark the centenary of The Mother’s arrival, in Puducherry. Photo: S.S. Kumar
The Hindu Kathak danseuse Mahua Shankar, performing at the three-day cultural festival held at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Theatre, to mark the centenary of The Mother’s arrival, in Puducherry. Photo: S.S. Kumar

Danseuse Mahua Shankar performed for the first time in Puducherry at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Theatre

When actor Kamal Haasan replicated Birju Maharaj’s fluid Kathak moves in Unnai Kaanadhu Naan in Viswaroopam, the sequence not only bagged a national award for the choreography, but also brought a classical dance form closer to a mass audience in south India. Danseuse Mahua Shankar, trained by Mr. Maharaj, believes in doing the same— bringing the dance form closer to the common man and woman.

“Kathak is not only for the connoisseurs. Gone are the days when the audience comprised of knowledgeable rasikas keeping note of every nuance,” said Mahua, who performed for the first time in Puducherry at Sri Aurobindo Ashram Theatre on Friday. “They are still there, but most of the audience consists of people who know little or nothing about the dance. It is important to present the form in such a way that they can relate to it,” she added.

Ms. Shankar was not only trained by Mr. Maharaj but she was also named by him. “He got my parents married, and when I was born he said I should be called ‘Mahua’, because of my eyes,” she smiles. Denoting an intoxicating flower, the name cannot suit the doe-eyed dancer better.

The artist who has danced alongside actor Madhuri Dixit to Kaahe chhed mohe in Devdas is not the radically experimental type, though she has collaborated with Kuchipudi and Bharathnatyam dancers and looks forward to working with international artistes.

She prefers to stay rooted to the traditional form, revelling in a challenge of a different kind— the task of attracting new audiences, who are unfamiliar with Kathak.

“My style of dance is intended for the lay man. Making someone who knows nothing about the dance appreciate it is a challenge. In such cases, a dancer has to hypnotise the viewer,” she said.

Though she gave up teaching in 2009 in favour of travelling for performances, she continues to learn from Mr. Maharaj, whenever she is in Delhi. “The learning process is never complete. He is a great friend, father figure and he reads me like an open book,” Ms. Shankar said.

Kathak performances in south India are not all too common, and more efforts to expand the reach of the dance are required.

“Inviting Kathak dancers from various States to perform in the South can help people understand the richness of the dance,” said Ms. Shankar, who regularly performs in Kerala in concerts organised by the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY).

Mahua Shankar’s performance launched the three-day art and culture festival organised by the Department of Tourism to commemorate the centenary of The Mother’s arrival in Pondicherry. She was accompanied by artistes Shubeb Hassan, Murad Ali Khan, Akram Khan and her sister Nupur.

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Mahua Shankar is probably the best torch bearer to carry the flames
lit by great masters and carried through generations of gifted Kathak
dancers. She is fortunate to be a close disciple and daughter
(figuratively) of legendary Pt. Birju Maharaj Ji. Blessed with a great
stage presence, this young and gracious danseuse has impressed one and
all in India and abroad, in equal measures. As she herself puts it,
she makes a conscious effort to take the dance form to the doors of
her audience, even if they are not master connoisseurs of this dance
form. It is nice to know that her performance is being appreciated
even in lands not so familiar with Kathak. Best wishes to the young
lady and the co-artistes for their maiden but wonderful display at
Puducherry.

from:  Sujit Kumar Sanyal
Posted on: Mar 4, 2014 at 00:58 IST
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