Dance

‘Over time, Kathak becomes a part of our body’

A rapt audience

A rapt audience

When Monisa Nayak took the stage at Vidya Vanam School, in Anaikatti, there was was a fluidity and ease in her movements that only hinted at what was to come.

For the sound of the ghungroos

For the sound of the ghungroos

Dressed in a bright pink costume with hints of gold to accentuate the regal aura of the movements, she demonstrated the basics of the classical art form to her awestruck audience, explaining everything from the rhythmic beat sequence that drives her performances (ta-tai-tai-tat-aa-tai-tai-tat, a refrain that was repeated and echoed often) to the weight of the ghungroo (anklets) that adorned her feet (about three hundred bells amounting to four kilograms).

A beautifully executed pirouette

A beautifully executed pirouette

The students were overwhelmed by the grace and beauty of the performance. How does she spin without feeling dizzy? How can she dance while carrying so much weight? Monisa’s response was simple and, perhaps, best reflective of her performance. “We practise,” she said. “We learn for many years. Over time, Kathak becomes a part of our body.”

For an hour on Monday afternoon, Monisa Nayak and her accompanying artistes showed the audience this quality of expertise; when art and artiste meld into one, where movement and body can no longer be told apart.

Kishore Gangani on the tabla and Priyanka Kumari gave vocal support

Kishore Gangani on the tabla and Priyanka Kumari gave vocal support

Accompanied by Kishore Kumar Gangani on the tabla, Vinod Kumar Gangani on the harmonium and vocals, and her disciple Priyanka Kumari on padhant (the oral recitation of beats), Nayak brought with her a wealth of experience (as a professional dancer for the last 16 years) and tradition (trained in the Jaipur gharana since the age of six).

She depicted everything from abstract dance choreographies to the impish pranks that characterised Lord Krishna’s childhood. Woven between the pieces was a brief history of Kathak itself — from a dance form usually performed in temples during the ‘Mandir kaal’ to the courts of Hindu and Muslim kings during the Mughal era, and continuing to grow with innovation and creativity. The styles, costumes, and content of the dance evolved over time, and the team’s one-hour performance was a snapshot of history come alive.

Through the course of the lecture-demonstration, Nayak touched upon the differences between Kathak and the tradition of South Indian classical dance. The aesthetic is most evident, with Bharatnatyam being defined by bent knees and Kathak by the lack.

A mudra being explained

A mudra being explained

Yet, Nayak’s performance also demonstrated one universal truth. Dance and art know no boundaries. When her audience was asked to guess mudras , the chorus was unanimous. “Water, peacock, fish,” they chorused. The only discrepancy — between namaste and vanakkam — was greeted with a chuckle of understanding. For an audience being introduced to Kathak, Nayak was a skilled teacher, demonstrative and explanatory in equal measure.

Whether a performance ought to be judged by the audience or the artistes is up for debate, but, when a performance excels on both counts, it is bound to enthral. At various points, the audience wore quiet unconscious smiles of contentment and joy, unaffected by the foreignness of the music itself, given that most tunes were set to words in Sanskrit, Brijbasha or Hindi. Yet, it was clear that the artistes were not performing at all. They were experiencing, and the audience was merely witness to that experience.

When Kishore Gangani set out to play his solo beats on the tabla, his eyes were closed and his body moved in synchrony with the rhythm flying off his fingers. He was lost to the audience and the stage. It was only the music that mattered. In moments when the instrumentalists accompanied the dancer, they spoke a language of their own, of shared experience and understanding of the music. They had smiles and nods that only they were privy to. They had Kathak, an experience that was only theirs. It was this experience that the audience was witness to on Monday.

Early on in the performance, in explaining the history of Kathak, Nayak told her audience of its etymology. “The word kathak comes from ‘kattha kehne waala’,” she explained. There was no question about the appropriateness of this name. Nayak and her team were not just artistes. They were storytellers, weaving tales of dance and history with a grace of movement and confidence of body that masked years of training and discipline. They told their story, and it was called Kathak.

The performance was a SPICMACAY and SRF Foundation Virasat presentation.


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 6:54:14 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/a-performance-of-kathak-at-a-school-in-coimbatore/article22667936.ece