It’s a great time to be a Kathak dancer, says Gauri Diwakar

Prominent 19th century balletomane Theophile Gautier thought dance is little conducive to render metaphysical themes. But dancers of this century are proving otherwise — exploring the workings of the human mind and heart through their abstract narratives. They are moving beyond mythological plots and stories to tap into their experiences and emotions for a personalised expression.

Delhi-based Gauri Diwakar’s ‘Dancing Emptiness’ is one such production that draws from the philosophy of Kabir and the Buddha, and had its Delhi premiere yesterday at Shri Ram Centre. Music is by Bhuvanesh Komkali, grandson of the legendary Kumar Gandharva.

From being part of renowned dancer-choreographer Aditi Mangaldas’s repertory to staging her second major work, Gauri says this progress is a response to the personal insight she has had over the last two decades into her art. “When performing such full-fledged solo productions, you realise how much you have assimilated the technique and style.”

Over the past few years, Gauri, who also trained under Pt. Birju Maharaj and his son Jaikishan Maharaj, has emerged as an artiste who captures the spirit of the dance form as much with her energetic whirls and rapid-fire footwork as with her eloquently graceful moves. Her performances show her fine grip over the grammar and the poise with which she draws poetic imageries. “I revel in Kathak’s traditional nuances. Contemporary for me is a thought process. As a dancer of today, I view the classical system through a modern lens. Kathak is khula naach; it’s not repertoire-bound; it allows you to visualise and interpret the way you want to,” she explains.

It’s a great time to be a Kathak dancer, says Gauri Diwakar

‘Dancing Emptiness’ opened in 2017 at the Serendipity Festival, Goa as part of the specially-curated series ‘Sandhi’ by Sanjeev Bhargava. Like her first production, ‘Hari Ho... Gati Meri,’ this one has also been choreographed by her guru Aditi Mangaldas. “She has been pushing me to choreograph such exhaustive works, but I think I am still not ready. Gurus are like umbrellas under whom you like to take protection,” says Gauri.

Before her performance at the Serendipity Festival, Gauri was “holed up” at the house of Aditi’s mother in Mumbai for three days. “Aditiji was visiting her but got busy with my rehearsals that went on throughout the day. Every minute was spent shaping and reshaping ideas. With her you cannot have it easy. At every stage, she expects complete involvement and will keep asking, ‘what do you think about it’. Also, you need to have your thematic ideas mapped out and music ready before she gets down to the choreography.”

The training at Drishtikon (Aditi’s dance company) goes beyond the Kathak vocabulary. The students are made to understand the body, respect the space and explore the geometry of movements. Like her guru, the radical Kathak diva Kumudini Lakhia, Aditi also believes in an approach marked by adventurous curiosity. The disciples are encouraged to make their own path and not expected to tread the one already laid.

Talking about ‘Dancing Emptiness,’ Gauri says, ‘Shunyata’ (emptiness) is not nothingness, it has an energy of its own. In life, we need to explore the space, flanked by extremes, like the strings of an instrument that should neither be very loose nor tight to produce a beautiful naad. It’s a space where everything is transient, yet deeply interconnected.”

“Possibly the thought emerged from my own situation,” she adds. With my guru there’s an unspoken understanding. It is the same at home, where my husband and mother-in-law offer unconditional support without my asking for it. So, I know the excitement of being in a bare, free space that allows you to think on your terms and grow.”

Like her first production, ‘Hari Ho... Gati Meri,’ Gauri hopes to travel across the world with ‘Dancing Emptiness.’ ‘Hari Ho... Gati Meri’ are lines from Sayyad Mubarak Ali Bilgrami’s poetry, who professed love for Krishna in his verses. It also includes references to Krishna in the poems of Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Malik Muhammad Jayasi and Mian Wahid Ali. It has been staged at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Darbar Festival in London, Korzo Festival in Hague and Milaap Festival in Singapore.

“It’s a great time to be a Kathak dancer, when the dance form is drawing the attention of the world with some of its highly-admired practitioners coming up with stylised and experimental works,” says Gauri, who is eager to find a perfect way to balance the old and the new.

“You need to have the conviction to handle an unconventional theme. Hari Ho...Gati Meri’ was not created to make a point but to reflect the inherent Indian spirit of co-existence. It seemed to be an extension of my collaboration with Samiullah Khan, the vocalist for my performances and an integral part of the curation process,” says Gauri, who hails from the small town of Jamshedpur but has managed to find her feet in a big city. “My journey is like a dance piece that emerges from a small thought to send out a larger message,” she laughs.

It’s a great time to be a Kathak dancer, says Gauri Diwakar

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 7:48:22 PM |

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