Kathak dancers want to know more about their style: Kamalini Dutt

In harmony: (from Left) Nisha Mahajan, Deepti Gupta, Sushmita Ghosh and Jayashree Jangam

In harmony: (from Left) Nisha Mahajan, Deepti Gupta, Sushmita Ghosh and Jayashree Jangam   | Photo Credit: Atikant Arya


Introspection and a conscious withdrawal from externals are a healthy shot in the arm for Kathak as well as other dance forms, says Guru Kamalini Dutt

Another fitful year draws to a close, and it’s ever clearer that the phenomena bringing changes big and small, welcome and unwelcome, to the world at large have inevitably entered the relatively protected field of Indian classical arts. Remaining unaffected by change can be a choice, or it can be a necessity brought about by lack of opportunity and exposure. In India’s classical dance circuit we have seen how since independence, arts like Bharatanatyam took wing on the stages of the world while others made slower albeit steady strides to reach the national mainstream.

Not surprisingly, Bharatanatyam was arguably the first to expand its horizons, in terms of technique, thematic content, range of practitioners and other inputs that go into a living art – of course, with mixed results.

Kamalini Dutt

Kamalini Dutt   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU

Kamalini Dutt, guru and choreographer of Bharatanatyam and a mentor to a range of classical dancers, ponders, “Where lies authenticity? Is it in the dance or is it in you? If you catch (the idea) that it is in the dance and the way it is being taught and you hang on to it, then the dance doesn’t grow. At the same time you can’t just throw it to the air and say that I will like do whatever I want with it. So within the parameters of the style itself you have to pave your own space. And for that you have to be very authentic with yourself … and that authenticity means truthfulness for me.” She adds that another key gauge is whether the artist is “creating rasa or not.”

Erudite in the shastras of natya — India’s classical dance and theatre forms — and having worked for decades at Doordarshan where she held a number of posts across departments, ultimately retiring as Director, Archives, she has seen the growth and propagation of the classical arts from a number of perspectives and is uniquely placed to comment.

Curiosity about Kathak

As for clinging to the old without a clear reason, Kathak has been a field where both practitioners and observers have felt hampered by this limiting notion of authenticity. “But,” says Dutt, “now I think the Kathak dancers are wanting to know more about their style, wanting to know what else they can do, and some of them are moving out of set boundaries — not only doing (work from within their) gharana, but mixing gharanas. All those things are happening.” Earlier, she points out, “Everything was sacrosanct for them, whatever the gurus said, that’s it.”

Recently though, the inception of ‘goshtis’ or discussion forums by senior practitioner and guru Prerna Shrimali, where young voices were given a welcome hearing showed that there is more tolerance for debate and frank discussion.

“But still I feel that the market forces are actually determining who (will perform) and how the performances should be – not only in Kathak, in every style. The only styles which have not changed I should say, are in the Northeast. Sattriya is doing extremely well and Manipuri has always been like that, and they have not succumbed to any market pressure.” Also Kathakali practitioners, she notes, “don’t care about what is happening in the outside world.”

But, “every other dance style, be it Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam, even Odissi to a certain extent,” has been affected by a need to exhibit ‘glamour’.

Coming back to Kathak, she says, “The kaishiki (the softer, delicate and subtle aspect of movement mentioned in the dance treatises) side of it is gone. If in some quarters they are preserving it and are aware of this, I think it will really mean a lot for the growth of the style.”

A notable alternative to the mainstream perspective was the recent evening at New Delhi’s Triveni Kala Sangam, where The Yoga And Art Group (TYAAG) presented Kathak compositions highlighting some rarely seen compositions of veteran Lucknow gharana maestro Guru Munna Shukla. The occasion marked the guru’s 75th birthday, as well as the culmination of TYAAG’s 20th year. The performers were his senior disciples, Jayashree Jangam, a Pune-based dancer and guru in her own right; Sushmita Ghosh, a well travelled dancer who held the post of Director, Kathak Kendra for a few years; Deepti Gupta, founder of the Angikam Seminar in Kathak and Choreography in Canada, who divides her time between India and Canada; and Nisha Mahajan, noted guru of Kathak and Yoga and founder of TYAAG.

The evening illustrated that disappearing concepts are still alive, such as kaishiki, repose and an artist’s total immersion in the art, such that the audience savours the art and is not bombarded by a pyrotechnic display or an exhibitionist personality.

Dance guru Munna Shukla

Dance guru Munna Shukla   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Glad that Guru Munna Shukla’s approach was brought into focus, Guru Kamalini mentions, “I admire Munnaji also that he has kept the quality and the purity – he has kept the art space sacrosanct, without letting it dissipate. (Jo art ka apna space hai, usko itna pure banaa ke rakha hua hai, unhone idhar udhar usko phelaaya nahin).”

Good old days

This immersed yet technically admirable approach was evident in all of the dancers at the TYAAG evening.

In the past, notes Kamalini, “Rohini Bhateji has been one of the pioneers who didn’t care about what was happening around her. She marched alone and brought in such beautiful insight into Kathak, and she carved out a place for herself. She’s not a gharana guru but equal to them in many ways because of her contribution.” Maya Rao’s contribution has been equally significant, she adds. A disciple of Pandit Shambhu Maharaj of the Lucknow gharana, “After that in her choreography she has brought those beautiful aspects to Kathak, no doubt about it – costuming, everything. I have seen people perform 30-40 years ago, in that old style of putting a cap on their head, and putting a feather also, the nawabi culture. Now it’s so aesthetically beautiful.”

But that brings her to the current mainstream trends. Whether Bharatanatyam or Kathak, she says, “What is it meant for? It is meant for not only showing your rhythmic prowess. You have to say something more than that, isn’t it? That is not happening – I’m not talking about the TYAAG programme or Rohini Bhate’s school – but the major Kathak is only about the speed and the rhythm (and flamboyance).”

Speed and glamour are sold everywhere around us. “What a discerning audience wants when one goes to see a programme is to go away from it and get into some kind of thehrao, what is called sthairya (an inner composure and repose). That is not happening in major Kathak performances. That’s why this comes as a breeze. It touches you and it assures you.” Not that she worries about the future of the form. “It will be always beautiful. But it’s a big relief to see such work being done and the process being given more importance than the product itself. The product is also important. I don’t say it should not be. But if the process is not nurtured and dancers only concentrate on what to present in the next programme and the next, how will they develop creativity and repose?”

Flawless performance

If the nritta portion of Sushmita and Jayashree glowed with contained power rather than energy thrown at the audience, Deepti was flawless despite a fractured foot and Nisha “came across like a feather,” these traits were illustrative of “what Kathak is all about: minimalism.” It is not a space for “drama” she says. Even the appreciation is expressed as “kya baat hai,” referring to elements “so subtle and so beautiful.” This subtlety is disappearing today, she remarks, and so the work of Nisha Mahajan through her organisation of two decades, consciously mingling the paths of Yoga and dance, the internal journey with the external experiences, is highly significant, as is the effort to bring to the fore the legacy of her gurus, Munna Shukla and Rohini Bhate. “I’m hundred percent convinced that this is what should be done in the area of Kathak, and it should be done in any other style,” concludes Guru Kamalini.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 11:34:33 PM |

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