LEELA VENKATARAMAN

It is an exciting phase for dance, what with Abhay Shankar Mishra in full flow and Gati’s Summer Residency programme yielding rich results.

An accomplished Kathak exponent now a resident teacher working for the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London, Abhay Shankar Mishra’s dance is invested with an unusual quality of an expertise not stamped by the overwhelming identity of any one Kathak gharana. Born to a family of percussion experts, his Kathak grooming under Birju Maharaj, Urmila Nagar and Pandey Maharaj, representing the best of Lucknow, Jaipur and Banaras gharanas respectively, has enabled him to draw from the storehouse of all schools, without his individuality unduly influenced.

Performing at the Stein auditorium, his Shiva invocation based on a Dhrupad “Damaru Harkar Baje”, along with the “Angikam Bhuvanam” hymn, had its own resonance with rhythmic sequences, based on heavy pakhawaj bols, very characteristic of Shiva, built into the one avartan line of the song repetitively sung, lehra fashion. The leg elevations, the jumps and one-legged stances to portray the trishula-wielding, ash-smeared Lord — all added up to an invocation different from the usual Kathak fare. Even the Teen tala sequence had nothing hackneyed, the triphali incorporating all three layas in a one-avartan bandish, and the delightful kavits — “Nirakat Dhang” portraying Radha and the gopis sporting with Krishna and a unique Kaliya/Krishna encounter based on Jaipur gharana Narayan Prasad’s creation.

By the time Abhay had completed the parmelu, “farmaish paran” and the ladhi, one had been treated to compositions of Birju Maharaj, Shambhu and Lachhu Maharaj and Urmila Nagar. Tabla accompaniment was provided by no less than Shankar Prasad Mishra of Banaras, before whose expertise Mahaveer Gangani’s pakhawaj got lost. Ramesh Parihar the vocalist, Rakesh Prasanna on the sarod and Ghulam Waris on the sarangi comprised the competent musical team, though sound balancing, with a too-loud tabla drowning all other instruments, was poor.

The one aspect missing was abhinaya, for Abhay had billed the evening for a second half performance by his group of eight disciples. Right from the start “Guruvantu sarve mama suprabhatam” with homage to the Trimurti, the nine planets and the sapta swaras, one could see that the students hailing from varied backgrounds formed a synchronised group and were generally neat in movement execution, their dance profile without flaws. The choreography was sans complications. The soundtrack showed excellent sound balancing with each instrumental effort clearly heard and a vocalist with excellent diction even in the Sanskrit bits. But where the disciples still have to work is in the interpretative aspect wherein the internalised feel of a Shiva or Krishna is totally missing. This part needs reinforcement through more reading and inter-disciplinary exposure.

Rare contemporary work

Gati’s Summer Residency programme brought together aspiring choreographers from varying dance disciplines, traditional and contemporary, in an intense dialogue on how to choreograph new work. Three totally individualistic creations emerging out of this interaction augurs well for future similar attempts. With Navtej Johar, Maya Rao and Zuleikha Chaudhari as mentors, a broad spectrum of expertise in dance vocabularies, theatre and body/space understanding was available.

“Doha” choreographed and performed by Swati Mohan and Sangeet, was inspired by a Kabir couplet “Kabira kiya kuch na hot hai, unkiya sab hoye, Jo kiya kuch hot hai, karta aur koye” showing mind and higher self working together in an inexplicable way — a higher force governing what happens — for what one does, does not happen while what one does not, happens. Did the dance aim at a happenstance — discovering the essence of this couplet through movement without self-consciously trying to find it? Structure, rhythm and movement punctuation had the excellently trained twosome coming together without consciously seeming to do so. Zakir Hussain’s “Music from Space Element” added a special dimension.

“Excess, the soul body between Akka and Magdala” in a legend/poetry inspired encounter was created round the love/faith, physically lived experience of woman. Manola K. Gayatri’s visualisation working through the twin, contrasting dance personalities of Bharatanatyam/Odissi-trained Aranyani Bhargav and Ranjana Dave using dramatic visuals by Priyadarshini John, throbbing pauses, music devised by Manola and Priyadarshini, bols from both Odissi and Bharatanatyam, created raw, pulsating moments, very reminiscent of Chandralekha’s approach, the classically trained dancers quite at home in the uncharted land of contemporary otherness.

Woven round the concept of illusion of perception and mechanical time, “Maya”, conceived and performed by Veena Basavarajaiah in collaboration with Suhas Kaundinya with music by Suchet Malhotra, became a different kind of almost instinctive percussion/movement empathy. With Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Arts and Aesthetics and persons of vast experience and talent associated with this effort of Gati, Contemporary Dance is in for an exciting phase.