Keeping pace with the times

Shama Bhate

Shama Bhate  

Without straying from grammar of Kathak, Shama Bhate lends a contemporary touch to her works

A few minutes into ‘Vasudeva sutam devam,’ the opening sloka of Sri Krishnashtakam, one developed a liking for ‘Krishna - The Liberator’ presented by senior Kathak dancer and teacher Shama Bhate. As each well-trained dancer entered softly, now as gopi, now as Krishna, the fluid role-play changed every moment to convey the essence of the prayer.

There was sophistication in visualisation as Shama took us through Krishna leelas in the 60-minute production. Kaliya Mardhanam, makhan chori, Govardhana leela, Kamsa mardhanam and the Jivatma-Paramatma aikyam shiksha given to the gopis on the banks of the Yamuna were enacted in that order, with minimal theatrics and without interruption, except for the sutradhar’s brief appearances. That the choreographer chose to contemporarise the stories, for example, Krishna stole butter because otherwise the children in Vrindavan were not getting enough, was more a twist to the tale in a literal sense and had no bearing on the dramatisation.

Subtlety was key. Kaliya, the serpent king, slithers onto the stage, to a poetic alaap (Paraj, teen taal) and there is a fight that we can barely make out. Krishna appears victorious as the music gives way to a rhythmic kavit, ‘Bana maal gale sir more pakha’ (Rohini Bhate), which is interrupted by the alaap and the rewinding of the story in slow techni-colour — the Yamuna getting poisoned, the vegetation dying, Krishna conquering Kaliya and the final celebration in a traditional kavit, ‘Tandava gati mundane… pum pum pum’ (Surdas, tisra).

Layakari, keeping beat, was a constant in Shama’s production, not ever intrusive during the narratives. Manodharma music like sargam, alaap and sitar jodh along with rhythmic poetry and unobtrusive percussion together made an inspiring bedrock of music (Kedar Pandit) for the subtle choreography. The dancers were: Ameera Patankar, Vidula Hemant, Avani Gadre, Ragini Nagar, Shivani Karmarkar, Ketki Sathe and Savani Mohite.

Creative journey

Shama Bhate is a respected Kathak artiste in her own right today, with her dance institution Nadroop, Pune, having turned 27, but for those who may not be acquainted with her, she is the disciple and daughter-in-law of the one of the foremost dancer-gurus, Rohini Bhate. Shama trained exclusively with Rohini and got to watch and absorb her guru’s choreographic vision, musical arrangements and lighting aesthetics.

After more than 15-16 years, she branched out and established Nadroop. She was a soloist until she decided to step away from the arc lights 5-6 years ago. She continues with group choreographies, choosing not to take part in them as she needs to study every frame from a distance.

What has her creative journey been like? Being interested in further understanding laya, Shama studied under tabla artist Pt Suresh Talwalkar, and attended workshops with Kathak maestro Pt Birju Maharaj, whom she considers her manasik guru, and Pt. Mohanrao Kalyanpurkar, her guru’s guru. She says she picked up things from their teaching that turned out to be like keys to the vast world of aesthetics.

Shama, by her own admission, is partial to the puranas. That explains her recent works, ‘Krishna – The Liberator’ and Mahabharata re-interpreted, ‘Ateet ki Parchhaiyan.’ But Shama’s artistic journey has kept up with the times, to present contemporary works within the framework of traditional grammar.

Shama is particularly proud of ‘Naad Bindu,’ a production performed to the background of famous artist S.H. Raza’s abstract paintings with the concepts of naad (resonating sound) and bindu (centre) reflected in both the visual and in the performing art forms. Another is ‘Nishabda Bheda’ in which she explores the silence of the ocean, a presentation that played out along with a French documentary on the same subject. She has also worked with jazz music and French poetry and is looking forward to choreographing to symphony music in Israel.

The future of Kathak? Her response is instantaneous . “Kathak has many possibilities. I hope my students take off from where I leave it. They can remain traditional and can yet make their mark in the modern world.”

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Printable version | Jul 15, 2020 2:55:44 PM |

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