A leap of imagination

Sanjukta Sinha   | Photo Credit: A.M.Faruqui

The elegant cotton anarkali accentuates her slim frame, the face is scrubbed clean and hair pulled back in a tight bun — Sanjukta Sinha is a woman in total control as she goes about last-minute checks and calmly answers queries from backstage staff, before a performance in Chennai. But once on stage, under a thin streak of light, she transforms into a dancer who combines the rigour of Kathak with the flamboyance of the contemporary. She raises her arms to trace sculptural patterns; her feet alternate between being in the air and on ground; her radiant yellow skirt flares out with each vigorous spin and the gaze of her large, thickly kohled eyes lend intensity to her expressions.

Sanjukta is among those young Indian dancers, who with their classical-inflected modern vocabulary have made successful forays into the international dance scene. Back from four shows of ‘Sukanya’ across the U.K, she is thrilled to be part of the late sitar virtuoso Pt. Ravi Shankar’s opera, that he began to work on shortly before his death in 2012. It has now been completed by his daughter Anoushka and long-time collaborator David Murphy.

“In the past few months much has happened in my stage life. I feel every moment I spent dancing since age seven has been worthwhile,” says Sanjukta, who has been chosen for the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar (for Kathak) this year. “The day I got the news of the award, I was in Lucknow visiting my parents. Lucknow is where my journey began. Memories of training, hopes, dreams and fears began to flood my mind.”

  • Sanjukta has been an integral part of Kumudini Lakhia’s sophisticated choreographic works, where each movement is well thought out and positioned, creating an overall strong visual impact. Sanjukta’s nuanced exploration of the form adds to the aesthetics of these acclaimed works.
  • Yugal: a male-female duet performance based on Kathak’s dynamic technique, does not feature sahitya and evokes a mood of sensuality.
  • Tatha: Highlights the spiritual and physical bond between man and woman. Based on the meditative rendition of Dhrupad exponents Gundecha Bandhu, this contemporary creation was well received across the globe
  • Angika: A one-hour solo performance revolves around love and longing. Comprising four sequences Aamad (hope), Ghazal (longing) Shiva (anguish) and Tarana (joy), it forges a link between past and present.
  • Kin: A solo work featuring Sanjukta, it is the brainchild of Farooq Chaudhry and produced by the dance company, IceCraft. It has three pieces created by three amazing artistes. The first one, ‘Illumine’, has been choreographed by Israeli-born Miriam Peretz, whom Sanjukta met in Rome. The piece is replete with whirls, backed by a vigorous rhythm composition that involves narration, playing and singing. ‘Illumine’ talks about flight, freedom and seeking the divine light.
  • The second piece, ‘Id’, is choreographed by Aakash Odedra with whom Sanjukta has shared the stage. A very physical piece, it involves a lot of floorwork and required Sanjukta to train hard to get into a body that shifts between being an animal and a human.
  • The third piece is about getting into a comfort zone. Choreographed by Kumudini Lakhia, ‘Incede’, is a beautiful mix of emotion and body kinetics, something Sanjukta revels in.
  • She now plans to introduce a fourth piece, a group work, which will have dancers from Kadamb.
Sanjukta Sinha with Guru Kumudini Lakhia

Sanjukta Sinha with Guru Kumudini Lakhia  

Though she has carved her own space through new age choreographies, Sanjukta prefers to call herself a Kathak dancer. Without the form, she says, you have no identity. “And without an understanding and encouraging guru, you will never find the artiste in yourself. My mind and body have been shaped by Guru Kumudini Lakhia. She let me follow my creative instinct. It is at Kadamb, her dance school (in Ahmedabad) that I found my feet.”

A reason why Sanjukta was keen that a piece in her much-talked about production ‘Kin’ should be choreographed by “Kumibehn,” whose path-breaking works are a testimony to her being ahead of times.

‘Kin’ also made Sanjukta the protégé of dramaturge Farooq Chaudhry, who is associated with celebrated experimental artistes such as Akram Khan, Aditi Mangaldas and Aakash Odedra. He watched her solo at Liverpool and made an offer for dancing in a style that would take her much beyond her artistic roots. “I didn’t wait a second to say ‘yes.’ I have always loved to challenge myself and soar on the wings of imagination. And Farooq presented me with that opportunity.”

Even when she was being trained in the traditional format under Pt. Arjun Mishra in Lucknow, Sanjukta was anxious to articulate the conventional repertoire differently. “Since the liberal atmosphere at home allowed me to think on my terms, I was constantly fighting to free myself from the many don’ts and the art from, rigidity. It’s frustrating to hear people say change will make the dance form impure. Despite my strong traditional sensibilities, I am delighted that Kathak has evolved to tell stories of the time; stories with social and cultural resonances,” says Sanjukta.

Her first tryst with Kathak was at a month-long workshop conducted by Pt. Birju Maharaj in her home town. She was the youngest participant. But within three days, she could match steps with girls much older. Her mother was convinced Sanjukta had a flair for dance and that she wasn’t pushing her into it. “Initially I was pursuing my mother’s unfulfilled desire to dance. Through me she wanted to see it happen,” laughs Sanjukta.

A leap of imagination

But her parents also made sure academics was not compromised with. “They told me if I was passionate about dance, I needed to find a way to balance both. It wasn’t easy as Pt. Mishra, like any other old-world guru, was a hard taskmaster.”

Along with the technique, Sanjukta developed a distinct creative vision. “I wanted my dance language to be versatile; to communicate with the world what I wanted. It had been on my mind for a long time but I was hesitant to discuss it aloud.”

The National Youth Festival in Gujarat came as a turning point. Sanjukta was upset over winning the second position in the competition. She went up to Kumudini Lakhia, who was one of the judges, to ask where she went wrong. “The gentleness with which she explained touched a chord in me and I decided I wanted to be her sishya. When I told her about it, she said I was too young to live on my own in a new city.”

Sanjukta headed straight to Kadamb after her graduation. It was what she was looking for. There was discipline, yet the freedom to express. “Kumibehn didn’t make me just a dancer, but a thinking one,” she says.

Lines and lessons
  • Kadamb: An extended home
  • Kumudini Lakhia: Humble with a great sense of humour and creative foresight. Helps students evolve both as artistes and indivduals.
  • Guru’s best advice: Everybody aspires to be different but it is difficult to make it happen and tougher to sustain freshness in your art.
  • Dance style: Looking at tradition in a new light.
  • Choreography: Form, body, light, costume, space and technique in seamless conversation.
  • Contemporary: Remaining relevant to time
  • Classical: A mark of cultural identity

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 2:27:21 AM |

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