Three senior dancers get candid on what tradition and contemporary mean to them

Aditi Mangaldas

Aditi Mangaldas   | Photo Credit: S_Madhuvanthi


How easy is it for artistes to keep their spirit alive in their untiring search for ‘something new’ even while zealously holding on to the past? They constantly traverse between the ancient and modern eras to keep the inherent charm of the classical arts intact, simultaneously adding refreshing dimensions to it. It’s a challenge that calls for dedicated research, deep engagement with the art and understanding the changing audience profile.

“Be clear in your head about the way you would want to connect with your art. It is then easier to meet the many challenges that will come your way,” says veteran Kathak dancer-choreographer-guru Kumudini Lakhia. “During my training phase itself I realised Kathak is made for you, you are not made for Kathak. To put it simply, you are not supposed to perform the technique; master and make something out of it,” adds Kumudini, a trailblazer, whose progressive works stirred the world of dance.

“When I began to question the old masters, I got stern, angry looks. I had a distinct vision of the art and was keen to pursue it. Who is to decide what is right or wrong,” she asks, bursting into her characteristic warm laughter. Despite being admonished by the old guard, Kumudini, one of the pioneers in group choreography in Kathak, put together a repertoire that explored abstract themes and geometry of the form.

One of the most loved gurus, her rapport with her sishyas goes beyond the classroom. “I tell them instead of using my name, use your imagination. The minute you are on stage, you are on your own. You should respect your guru, but also your body. Listen to it, prepare it for the physical rigours of performance.”

Three senior dancers get candid on what tradition and contemporary mean to them

On her own terms

Celebrated Odissi and Bharatanatyam exponent Sonal Mansingh describes tradition as parampara because it flows smoothly, absorbing changes. Her story of life and art is intriguing for the way she turned struggles into strengths. And that she has perceived dance on her terms comes through in her choreographic works. “I do not like to be referred to as an experimenter or innovator. I am an artiste who loves to revisit tradition. It may sound easy on the ear, but revisiting means exploring the stories and legends you have read and heard over the years. In the process, you might find an interpretation that could put even the most popular characters in these stories in the right perspective. And that lends a refreshing appeal to your art.”

For instance, in ‘Panch Kanya,’ which she performed recently in Chandigarh as part of the Theatre Olympiad, Sonal shows Ahalya, sage Gautama’s wife, as a woman who withdraws into a meditative mode after making love to Indra. “She did not turn into a stone under Gautama’s curse, nor did Rama place his feet on her to bring her back to life. When Rama comes to sage Vishwamitra’s deserted ashram, he sees a glow and asks where it is emanating from. The sage points out to Ahalya and asks Rama and Lakshmana to touch her feet. When they do so, Ahalya comes out of samadhi.” Sonal substantiates this argument with Sanskrit texts.

‘New’ for her does not mean turning the technique on its head. Sonal is a curious choreographer, like the intelligent and bold woman that she is. Her inquisitiveness often brings to the fore nuances that remain hidden in general practice. Her work appears deceptively simple in terms of movement choreography, but brims with poetic imagery.

Three senior dancers get candid on what tradition and contemporary mean to them

Mind-body expression

Quite like her guru Kumudini Lakhia, Aditi Mangaldas, has reworked around the Kathak grammar to come up with a powerful hybrid language. “I have never forgotten that the contemporary sensibilities are rooted in the classical. An artiste needs to be informed enough about the past to think of new possibilities,” says Aditi, who excels in both traditional presentation and new-age choreography.

“As much as you assimilate from systematic training, you also gain immensely by developing a spirit of curiosity. A katha can be narrated in myriad ways. When I feel I cannot convey something through Kathak, I choose modern expressions. It does not mean you are deviating from the established norm, there is an essence of the classical even in experimental works,” explains Aditi, known both for her solo performances and group compositions.

In Aditi’s repertoire, Meera, Kabir and Bhartendu Harishchandra co-exist with contemporary works such as ‘Inter-rupted’, ‘Widening Circles’ and ‘Timeless.’ “There is never a disconnect between the two worlds; it’s a seamless weave. My contemporary pieces draw a lot from the Kathak style; dizzying spins and pivoting turns are there too. At Drishtikon, my dance company, we train students in kalari, yoga, Kathak and modern vocabulary. I believe, the wider the perspective, the more liberated creator an artiste will be. In this fragmented universe, let there be harmony at least in art,” says Aditi.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 12:48:59 PM |

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