Bombay Showcase

Showcasing the nuance in dance

Joining hands:‘Shades of Kathak’ brings three kathak dancers — (clockwise from left) Tina Tambe, Aditi Bhagwat and Ranjana Phadke — with distinct practices together.— PhotoS: Special Arrangement  

emmed in by the chaos of an urban landscape, it is surprisingly easy to feel lonely. One is surrounded by people, but everyone is a stranger. Classical dancers in Mumbai echo this sentiment. They teach and perform but rarely get the opportunity to interact beyond their immediate networks. To address this dilemma, three kathak dancers in the city — Aditi Bhagwat, Tina Tambe and Ranjana Phadke — have pooled their ideas and knowledge to present Shades of Kathak, an evening-length performance showcasing several styles and aspects of kathak.

Phadke says of the collaborative effort: “We often perform individually, but this doesn’t create the impact of a cultural wave. There is nothing to suggest that there is continuous work happening in kathak in the city. Hence, this programme.” Meanwhile, Bhagwat saw an opportunity to encourage younger dancers to leave their comfort zone. She said, “Generally, when you watch a duet or a trio, the dancers are disciples of the same guru. My students may never get out of the classroom environment to see kathak being performed in a different style. This is a great way to highlight the differences and show what we have to offer based on our upbringing in specific styles of kathak.”

Kathak has multiple origins. It emerged from the practice of kathakars , itinerant storytellers in North India, and from the nuanced style of dancing that evolved in the region’s royal courts. Each of its major gharanas has roots in royal patronage, favouring specific stylistic aspects which were influenced and developed by the artistes who passed through those courts.

For instance, the Lucknow gharana is known for its nazakat , the delicate and subtle flourishes that lend it grace, while the Jaipur gharana is vigour-laced, with its powerful footwork and strong emphasis on technique.

Shades of Kathak is structured as a series of group and individual presentations.

The performers begin with an invocation in praise of Rama. This is followed by a section of kathak nritta , where the dancers, performing individually, use the basic 16-beat rhythmic cycle teentala to demonstrate the kathak technique as it has evolved in their styles. Each dancer picks a jati, a numerical grouping, showcasing combinations of three, five and seven beats within the 16-beat cycle.

Elaborating on the nuances that distinguish her style, Phadke says, “I belong to the Lucknow gharana, where an aamad — a technical composition — is soft and delicate so that it can do justice to small details like the torso movement and hand gestures. Therefore, the accompanying rhythm is also slow and gentle, to reflect the softness of the movements.”

Bhagwat performs das ka chhand: a permutation of five beats that her guru Roshan Kumari of the Jaipur gharana was famous for. Rhythm is what draws her to kathak. She says, “I also trained in Odissi for 10 years, but I chose kathak because I love the way a dancer can find infinite rhythm in her work. It is amazing how we can emote every aspect of kathak through our feet and with the help of our ghunghroos .”

The final section of the performance has the three dancers presenting an abhinaya that is characteristic of their gharana. In doing so, they also encompass a range of emotions from the flirtatious to the tragic. Tina Tambe presents a holi , a light and playful thematic composition that is picturised on the celebration of Holi. “Krishna plots to throw colour on all the gopikas who are going to fetch water. Kathak follows the lokadharmi — life-oriented — style of abhinaya . Hence we take the liberty of drawing on expressions from daily life. The holi ends with a folk motif. We use elements that a lay audience would find easy to understand,” she says.

Mix and match

Tambe’s work draws on elements from three gharanas of kathak: the Raigarh, Jaipur and Lucknow gharanas. She says, “There is something special about each gharana. Jaipur has good bols — rhythmic syllables — and I try to incorporate the nazakat of the Lucknow gharana into those bols . I work on what suits my body and perform accordingly.”

Phadke narrates a definitive incident from the Ramayana — the mutilation of Surpanakha, the princess who falls in love with Rama and is ready to go to any lengths to be united with him. In her passion, she incurs the wrath of Lakshmana, who cuts off her nose. Humiliated, Surpanakha swears vengeance, setting into motion the kidnapping of Sita and the great battle between Rama and Ravana. Meanwhile, Bhagwat presents Draupadi Vastraharan — Draupadi’s disrobement in the Kaurava court — in the gat bhav format, where there is no sung or spoken text accompanying the telling of the story. The dancer emotes only to the accompaniment of the tabla and a lahra, a repetitive melodic phrase usually played on the harmonium or sarangi. Without the crutch of words, the dancer is then compelled to pack meaning and expression into the staging of the story.

Sustaining the arts

Besides being a performance that brings three kathak dancers with distinct practices together, ‘Shades of Kathak’ hopes to further a collaborative spirit among classical dancers in the city. Highlighting this as an urgent need, Bhagwat says, “Dancers need more avenues to reach out to each other. The fraternity needs to come closer to create more opportunities and sustain the classical arts in a commercial city like Mumbai.”

Shades of Kathak today at 7pm at the NCPA

The author is an Odissi dancer and writer

‘Shades of Kathak’ hopes to further a collaborative spirit among classical dancers in the city

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 2:41:03 AM |

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