Grace and gratitude

Rajendra and Nirupama performing at the Swami Haridas Sangeet Evam Nritya Mahotsav   | Photo Credit: 05dfrRajendraNirupama

Well known Kathak duo Nirupama-Rajendra of Bengaluru were travelling to Vrindavan to perform for the Swami Haridas Sangeeta Evam Nritya Mahotsav when Guru Maya Rao, their mentor and teacher, passed away. Dedicating their programme to her memory, the duo presented a lively set of pieces with their young dancers of the Abhinava Dance Company, based on Krishna imagery — including “Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya”, shlokas set to a snappy contemporary score designed to draw in the young generation, Raasleela and Sankirtan. With their exuberance and unflagging energy, they endeared themselves to the Mahotsav audience, aided by dancing lights and fog machines. Even in this programme aimed ostensibly at the bhakti of the contemporary common folks, influences of two of their important gurus, Maya Rao and Kumudini Lakhia, were discernible.

Afterwards Nirupama and Rajendra spoke about their approach to dance. Excerpts:

On Guru Maya Rao

Nirupama: Our bonding with Maya Didi has been so strong. It is not just the number of years (spent with her). Maya Didi was a person who has done sadhana of a very high order. You (can) learn dance, but she made dance her life, and that is what we learnt. She shared the most valuable things of dance, for dance, for any serous pursuer. Once she was teaching me an ashtapadi of Jayadeva in a small room in the dance institute in Bangalore. She was intensely involved in teaching me, and her manager came to get her signature for something. She stopped him at the door and said, “Don’t disturb. We are in Vrindavan.” This was the first thing I remembered when we came (to Vrindavan). That was the intense involvement of Maya Didi, the way she created the atmosphere.

We learnt to use technique to subserve rasa. If you take out a technical piece from the whole, it will be a paran, or a tatkar, etc. But if you put it in the story, it will be a beautiful conversation between Radha and Krishna. The technique itself will become an instrument to tell a story.

She used to take inspiration from different traditions. For example, Kuchipudi has a tradition where the character is introduced using a curtain. She would not just take things, but take inspiration from them, retaining the base of Kathak.

For our productions, we design the costumes, we get the script done with the help of scholars and also we teach and choreograph. This we got from Maya Rao. And also from Rajendra’s family, as they belong to the tradition of katha kirtan from the South.

In the Rasleela we performed in Vrindavan, for example, we used the light design (by Santosh), and we used layers of music, like four tracks of sitar, two tracks of flute. These methods have been used in the West and now are used a lot in India. She introduced them to us (having taken) the choreography course in the Soviet Union. We studied the Natya Shastra, stage lighting, choreography, where to take the take the tradition… In art, it’s not about where we take it from, but where we take it to, so that the audience is transported to another world. How to handle this bigger picture is a quality she had, and we also try to follow.

We have seen her as a teacher, as a mother, as a caregiver, an individual sadhaka, a writer too, and a very good speaker. And we’ve been fortunate to draw inspiration from her in all these things.

Rajendra: For me, she has been family. My family’s relations with her go back for more than 50 years, from before I was born. When my mother was ill and Maya Didi came to see her, my mother said to her, he is your son. So she was a mother to me. As for her contribution, if she had not come to Bangalore, definitely we would not have known anything about Kathak.

On introducing steps and postures that might not be considered strictly from the Kathak technique

In all forms, we train, train, train, and finally we have to forget the training. Kumiben (Guru Kumudini Lakhia) used to tell us you (should) enjoy dance so much that what dance form it is doesn’t matter. In Rasleela, we used (dandiya) sticks. In Kathak, we don’t use sticks. But here, Ras is the ultimate aim. But everything we do springs from Kathak.

Upcoming projects

In Singapore, we are doing a collaborative project with the Priya Sisters called “Samhati” (coming Together). It will be premiered there on September 5.

The music is composed by Praveen Rao who does nearly all the music for our performances. We hope to bring “Samhati” to Delhi too some time.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 1:47:13 AM |

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