Old composition, new vision

Burnished by creativity A scene from the production “Punarnava”.

Burnished by creativity A scene from the production “Punarnava”.   | Photo Credit: Photo: Deepak Mudgal


Kathak Repertory’s new production “Punarnava” marked a high point.

Dialectics of old and new stood demolished as an audience of today watched mesmerised, as new vision framed a time-honoured composition imparting to it a burnished sheen that made it timeless in relevance — which is what tradition is meant to be. Fully justifying the high-profile, dressed up Kamani foyer with blown up pictures of Kumudini Lakhia the visionary choreographer, Madhup Mudgal the music designer and Gautam Bhattacharya the lighting expert, Kathak Repertory’s new production “Punarnava” truly marked a high point in the Kathak Kendra Repertory’s calendar. Maharaj Bindadin’s composition “Ni-ra-tata-dhang”, in its poetic description detailing locale of the sringar/dance exchange of Krishna with Radha and the gopis, with technical terms and bols visualising the dance, epitomises Kathak. So much so that great teachers like the late Shambhu Maharaj taught this inseparable part of the training repertoire as a ‘lakshan-geet’ of the dance, says disciple Kumudini Lakhia, with Birju Maharaj, whom she consulted, “reinforcing this standpoint.”

“Bahe pavan mand sugandh, sheetal, bansi bat tat” visualised the idyllic locale on Brindavan’s Jamuna bank, the joy of the Krishna/Radha/gopis congregation highlighted through the most eye-catching cluster formations of thaat and paran-amad, seen in a variety of arrangements only creative imagination could conceive of. The “Brahma Shankha Bajave..” verse with four, charged male dancers was a Tandav treat in Dhamar, the kavits and parans exuding an electric energy. In a very different mood was “Vrijbhaan nandani paap khandani” sequence with the scene change to the “Krishna ki chhabi dekh harshat” in Darbari Kanada, the gopis in myriad subtle gaits tantalisingly playing with their veils on seeing Krishna.

With the verse “Agraferi kavach palat gat, tihaiyaan aur toda” Kathak intra-forms blossomed with Kumudini’s choreography designing inexhaustible combinations and group arrangements. The padhant bit became a spirited exchange of playful skill and challenge, rhythmic syllables expanding into phrases, culminating in intricate sequences. The music in Kedar had four girls in sheer white costumes moving to the slow pulse of the tabla to be joined by the males in a tarana, concluding on a meditative note with the signature verse in Bhairavi. This was a great swara/laya enmeshing, Madhup Mudgal’s music, setting each verse to a different raga, the sung part followed by rhythmic sequences set to percussion, registering a benchmark — Kathak Kendra’s music being generally patchy. Costumes were aesthetically designed. And full marks to the strenuously rehearsed dancers who notwithstanding training under different gharanas and gurus, combined with extraordinary coordination.

Tame productions

All too often one comes across productions where flawless technique, neat dancing and costuming topped by diligent research make for pleasant viewing. But there is that original touch, that phrase of movement designing nobody has thought of before, that rare choreographic vision lifting a production above the commonplace level, without which the work will leave no lingering images in the audience’ mind. And this was the feeling watching Chandalika by Nritya Nandan from Dhaka, during Impresario India’s Panorama of Bengal’s art heritage, featuring a rich package of theatre, painting, Theatre Gaan, Sufi tradition of Lalan Fakir Bauls from Dhaka and poetry recitation. Sharmila Banerjee’s Chandalika choreography made a neat geometry of formations even in the market place with the dahiwala and bangle seller, where studied casualness would have been more natural. And the scenes of Prakrti’s mother using witchcraft to ensnare the Buddhist monk Anondo for her smitten daughter and thereafter being forced by Prakrti to break the spell, called for highlighting in a more dramatic manner. Rezwana Chowdhury Bannya’s music was adequate. But lighting was poor, this outdoor space lacking the technical infrastructure for good lighting.

Sixty Years

The Shri Ram Centre foyer bristled with telling photographs of Yog Sunder’s 60 years in dance, this Gujarati aristocrat giving up the comforts of his home for adventure of exploration in the world of theatre and dance, after training in Santiniketan. The introduction on the Indian Revival Group and Yog Sunder highlighted the multi-faced experience of one whose travel to innumerable corners of the globe presenting a variety of productions from “Mahishasuramardini” to “Vision of India” before dignitaries makes a fascinating story. “The Rising”, a recent production choreographed by daughter Papiha Desai with Yog Sunder, capturing the Independence struggle has to be applauded for the detailed research into history. The choreography, neat, along with coordinated dancing, lacks any unusual touches and becomes predictable in the movements which are more posturing than dance. The story of Independence has all the details, but without the high passion.

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