Through the voice of poets


abcd   | Photo Credit: innisingh

The word ‘gati’ takes on multiple hues in a new Kathak work choreographed by Aditi Mangaldas and performed by Gauri Diwakar

In classical performance parlance, the word ‘gati’ suggests speed and pace, and is often used in relation to pure dance. Kathak dancer Gauri Diwakar puts a different spin on the word in Hari Ho…Gati Meri, where ‘gati’ is a metaphor for salvation, sought with a desperation that stems from love and a measure of urgency.

Diwakar is a student of Kathak choreographer Aditi Mangaldas and a senior member of her company. With a little bit of persuasion, Diwakar convinced Mangaldas to choreograph Hari Ho…Gati Meri, which will be showcased tonight.

Highlighting the syncretism of Kathak, Hari Ho…Gati Meri is based on verses penned by Islamic poets in praise of Krishna. Diwakar was struck by the concept when her associate Sanjay Nandan, a news editor, presented it to her. “Kathak grew by leaps and bounds during the Mughal rule because royal dancers were constantly creating new movements to satisfy the whims of their patrons, greatly enriching the technical repertoire of the dance form in this process,” explains the dancer. “When Muslim poets are spoken about, we assume that their language of choice is Urdu. But this is not the case here. The poets we were drawn to wrote in a variety of dialects, including Braj Bhasha and Khari Boli.”

For Mangaldas, this was her first attempt at choreographing a full-length production on another dancer. While she has created shorter pieces, including one for British-Asian dancer Aakash Odedra, a longer work came with its own set of challenges. “I am hesitant to choreograph on someone if I don’t know their work,” says Mangaldas. “With Gauri, this was not a problem because we have spent a lot of time together. I am particular about encouraging individuality; it wouldn’t do to copy someone else’s aesthetic. Gauri’s technical prowess is fantastic, and she intuitively understood the piece and made it her own.”

Mangaldas has devised Hari Ho...Gati Meri in four distinct sections. The first, ‘Resonance’, is based on the poetry of early 20th century by Maulana Hasrat Mohani. It follows the flute, as played by Krishna, connecting it to greater tropes of life and knowledge. In ‘Shadows of Each Other’, the verse seeps in and out of the dance through the colloquialisms of the medieval poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi, who writing in his native dialect of Avadhi, knows Krishna as ‘Kanha’ and Radha as ‘Rahi’. In ‘ONE’, the verse is not set to music, but is delivered as padhant — the recitation of rhythmic syllables. Finally, in the title piece, from the work of poet Sayyad Mubarak Ali Bilgrami, the dancer has the opportunity to bring all these strands together.

Mangaldas found it crucial to build layers and add texture in response to the poetry, as opposed to simply depicting words and images in dance. The idea of resonance sparked several, seemingly disconnected images: from thoughts of the chaotic world, to the turbulent surface of a pan of boiling water. In imagining resonance as something that suffuses space and vibrates through it, she was struck by the need to start with a bang and fill the space with a forceful energy. In keeping with this image, the opening piece — in a departure from the linear logic of speed in Kathak — is danced in drut laya or a fast tempo.

Dipping into a rich tradition of poetry across centuries, Mangaldas was particular about the ideological implications of choosing poetry on Krishna written by Muslim poets. It had nothing to do with valourising a particular religion or commenting on trends in royal patronage. Mangaldas was preoccupied with Krishna as a concept lending itself to an immense imagination that spawned poetry, sculpture, art, architecture and dance. Krishna, then, was not god, man or woman, but an ‘imagination’ in the voice of poets who wrote with abandon and passion. “To me, this speaks of breaking barriers, of pulling down walls and of a sense of inclusion and togetherness,” she says. “I believe in humanity, rather than organised religion. I had to find a way of making this poetry my own, to work with it, to develop and transform the idea. The overpowering imagination and multiple narratives in the poetry opened up new worlds for me.”

The author is an Odissi dancer and writer

Hari Ho…Gati Meri will take place this evening at the Experimental Theatre, NCPA at 7 p.m. Tickets are priced between Rs. 200 and Rs. 400. Visit for details.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 11:08:51 PM |

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