Sunday, Dec 17, 2017 | Last Update : 03:54 AM IST
The modern stage is also an excellent place for showcasing sophisticated entertainment.
When a performance draws us into a shared sacred experience, it evokes the unique aesthetic aims illuminated in the Natya Shastra. These aims are not the exclusive property of the classical performing arts of India, but these dance genres evolved out of spiritual traditions which support those artists who are inclined to treat the stage as a sacred place.
The modern stage is also an excellent place for showcasing sophisticated entertainment. Fortunately, there are artists and audiences to share and enjoy multiple aspects of our arts. Some are terrific at entertaining even a distracted crowd while others demand and receive silent focus to savor nuance and depth.
I hope that everyone reading this can remember moving and even transformational performances that are etched in the mind forever, dance, music and theater. I am not one who believes that these are a thing of the past simply because well produced, technically proficient group and solo presentations are more in evidence.
There are certainly motivated young professional dancers who are motivated and offering spiritually and aesthetically rich performances. These artistic gems can be discovered to be seen in all traditions, but perhaps less seen in the younger generation of Kathak dancers. Perhaps this is because Kathak draws its presentation style more from its relatively recent courtly past than from the more distant temple origins. Maybe it is simply because it is so much fun to display the semi-precious jewels of playing with rhythm and doing chakras to applause at each musical sum. Given this, it was a truly rare treat to experience the spiritually rich Kathak performance by a superb young dancer, Divya Goswami Dikshit. The entire programme unfolded with a unity framed in bhakti and sophisticated elegance. As Divya’s presentation developed from Vandana through the pure dance nritta aksha to abhinaya paksha and concluding with a tarana there was a sense of connection with each part to the whole.
It was quite thrilling and even somewhat strange to see all the elements of Kathak united in continuity that one is more familiar with in styles like Bharat-anatyam and Odissi. With Banke Bihari, the divine vision of Krishna as her only reality, Diya began the evening with a quiet intensity, expressing her complete surrender to the beauty of the blue God and music of his flute. Her interpretation had a delicacy and restraint perfectly suited to the traditional Lucknow Gharana she follows under the tutelage of Guru Munna Lal Shukla.
When Divya presented the nritta portion using Teen Taal, the time cycle of 16 beats, we experienced the steady progression of the rhythm and energy from vilambit to drut with harmonious grace. Often, one finds this part of young Kathak dancers performances come across more as a classroom exercise, simply preliminary proof of their training and not yet transformed into dance.
Divya’s excellent padhnat, intricate footwork and characteristic spins were not the “be all and end all” of what her nritta presentation was about; these were subsumed with subtle body movements and lyrical use of arms and wrists to delight rasikas of all dance traditions in the audience.
The traditional composition for her abhinaya, Ayi Ritu Sawan Ki, Piya Ghar Nahi, set to raga Mishra Mallhar and taal Rupak, interpreted the impact of monsoon season on a heroine separated from her lover. What was so moving about this interpretation was the use of sancharis, extended passages of dance interpretation of a line that is less seen typically in Kathak. I often think much of the bhava in Kathak as being like Haiku poetry; quicksilver images capturing the essence of a truth quickly. In this interpretation, Divya as the nayika, goes into a trance reminiscing about her absent beloved as she experiences the dark clouds, lightning, drizzle and incessant rains of this romantic season. The intensity of her agony comes through. We share the pain of her waiting for Krishna, thanks to the dancer’s ability to develop a nuanced interpretation. Kamalini Dutt, the philosophical and scholarly dance guide to innumerable dancers of every style helped Divya develop this masterpiece.
Her concluding Tarana celebrated the form and formless, the queen of Ragas, Bhairavi but also the universal heavenly mother Tripura Bhairavi. Even the tarana maintained the focused intensity of bhakti and sringar bhakti that mesmerised the audience throughout. Kathak shifted back from the court to the temple. A dance concert is not a solo effort and I would be remiss not to also credit her excellent accompanists: Tabla — Shakeel Ahmad, Sarangi — Ghanshyam Sisodia, Flute – Shri Kiran Kumar, Vocal – Amrita Majumdar, Padhant — Jyotsana Banerjee Shukla.