Kathak, a dance style popular for its pirouettes, ghungroos and costumes, has historically been a performance art for men.
However, post Independence, women moved it from a patriarchal space, transforming it into an inclusive dance form for both genders. As a traditional art, Kathak has successfully blended into the urban cultural fabric, but lacks the involvement and contribution of men.
On a mission to attract the city’s men towards the dance form is Mumbai-based Kathak dancer, Aparna Mishra.
In an upcoming workshop titled, ‘Kathak for Him’ at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mishra hopes to debunk the myth that the dance form is only for women. “I want to assert the idea that Kathak is for all,” she says. “Men have shied away from it because of the notion that has been floating around that Indian classical dance forms are designed for women.” There are several reasons that have caused the rift between men and Kathak, gender-normative roles assigned by society being the main factor.
“Some men may fear that in a world where they are expected to appear masculine and adhere to roles prescribed by society, Kathak might add femininity to the way they do things.” In addition to enthralling audiences, Indian classical dance has a greater purpose: self-realisation. With time, the roadblock of succumbing to stereotypical gender labels will disappear, making way for a combination of dance and respect for the individual, she says.
‘Kathak for Him’ is the first of a three-part workshop/lecture demonstration series initiated by Mishra’s dance school, Kala Saadhana.
The other two, ‘Kathak for Her’ and ‘Kathak for Us’ will follow in the next few months with the aim of making Kathak an inclusive dance form.
During the workshop, Mishra will treat the participants to performances. This includes ‘Between Dance of Nature’, an ode to the bounty that nature provides, and ‘Hanuman Tandava’, a vigorous dance in praise of the monkey-god.
Instead of burdening the participants with technical details of the dance form in the workshop, Mishra will engage them in rhythmic beat patterns. “Kathak’s beat patterns can be experimented with and many combinations can be created,” she says. The participants will then be encouraged to follow her count, and steadily, the dancer hopes to unravel the nuances of Kathak. “I’m going to ask people to take off their shoes and try recreating the beat patterns by tapping their feet,” she says. With a quality that borders on walking on eggshells, Mishra is careful to not leave anyone uninterested. At the same time, she is determined to plant the seeds of curiosity for the dance form, in the minds of the participants.
Those eager to attend the workshop might want to brush up on permutations and combinations. “Using the basic 16-beat teen taal , we will collectively create combinations,” says Mishra. “Then it is up to the audience to volunteer and present their own combinations.”
Taking things a notch higher, Mishra mentions the Golden Ratio, and the Fibonacci series, where each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. How that plays a role in Kathak will only be revealed during the workshop.
Math-wary dance enthusiasts need not worry; Mishra draws an easier-to-understand parallel for the rest of us: “The numbers in the series are forever growing, much like human relations and people’s equation with nature. We cannot quantify relationships. But in the workshop, we will assign a certain stage in the relationship — for instance, marriage — for certain numbers, and when that beat comes, we let the emotions flow.”
Once the primer is completely understood, Mishra will elucidate other concepts such as gharanas (style), layakari (rhythmic play/experiments), bhaav (expressions) and more. She will recite a tukda , a technical piece set to a particular taal . Then her male students will demonstrate it with the rigour of the Jaipur and Benares gharanas, contrasting it with the grace of the Lucknow gharana .
Before the workshop culminates, participants will be introduced to Krishna, the much-loved god who has had a lasting effect on Kathak.
Krishna’s tales will be performed using gat bhaav : a storytelling tool without lyrics. Performers use narration and the beats of a tabla and nagma (a repetitive melodic phrase) to communicate.
Mishra believes traditional dance can be experimented with while retaining its inherent character.
Accordingly, she hopes to connect the urban man with Kathak using contemporary methods. The workshop is a small step towards accomplishing her mission.
Registrations for Kathak for Him are open. The workshop will begin at 7.30 p.m. on June 19 at the Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point. For details, call 66223724 or 22824567.
The writer is an intern with The Hindu
Participants will not be burdened with technical details,
but will be engaged in beat patterns