Natanam Studio for Performing Arts is a creative space for all practitioners of the classical performing arts.
In today’s times things have become massy — everything is about number games — festivals and dance events boast of having thousands of views, and with the social media making things even more accessible, the numbers are increasing even more. But among this sea of statistics stands out a very special gathering called “Baithak” which takes place at the end of every month at the Natanam Studio for Performing Arts — a Kathak Darpan Cultural Centre initiative in Mumbai.
Natanam Studio for Performing Arts is a creative space for all practitioners of the classical performing arts. They actively work with the artists, for the artistes and the audiences along with other support systems to create micro and macro ecosystems in the art world. The aim is to help preserve, promote and propagate the rich legacy of the classical performing arts. This one of its kind studio is managed by a team of professional performers who are also able administrators, thus understanding the needs of the fraternity at large. Natanam Studio was established with an aim to provide a space for artists where they can ideate, conceptualise and share artistic expressions. The Indian artistic context is a constantly evolving idiom, and this in turn inspires to revisit and reflect on the challenges of working in this dynamic.
Dr Piyush Raj, a very dynamic and handsome artist with an academic approach, an entrepreneur and a performer — he has a Doctorate in Pharmacy and an MBA in marketing and has been instrumental in establishing this creative space for all performing arts — the Natanam Studio for Performing Arts under the aegis of Kathak Darpan. He believes that his studio works with three Cs in mind “Create Curate Cultivate”.
Dr Piyush Raj explains, “We at Natanam Studio for Performing Arts create and commission unique stimulating performing arts projects and programs to develop and sensitise audiences to these art forms, curate programs and festivals to provide opportunities to artists to present their body of work to a greater audience through various platforms offered and cultivate residential programs, training workshops, advanced master classes and interactive sessions with national and international performers, thus encouraging a cultural exchange to develop a diverse perspective on these art forms.”
I have known Dr Piyush Raj for many years now and I must bring to your notice that he is a Nritya Visharad in Kathak under Dr Shveni Pandya (disciple of Pandit Lacchu Maharaj of the Lucknow gharana). Dr Piyush Raj further honed his art for over 18 years in the guru-shishya parampara from Guru Late Shri Bireshwar Gautam (disciple of Guru Bandana Sen, Padmashri Pt. Gopi Krishna and Padmashri Damayanti Joshi of the Lucknow gharana), a renowned Kathak dancer and accomplished Thumri singer. His dance derives its flavour from his tutelage — highlighting the nuances of Kathak by emphasising the “thehraav” while simultaneously developing the bhava and abhinaya aspect of Katha vaachan and poetry in dance.
He has performed at many prestigious dance festivals with his Guru — Kala Ghoda Festival, Ellora Festival, Purush Festival — Bombay, Nehru Centre Festival of Dance, Spirit of Unity Concerts — Chennai, and Vasantosav’ Kalashram — Delhi among others. He has been an integral part of choreographing theme-based Kathak performances like Raag Milan, Shakti, Suraabhinaya, etc as well as organising dance festivals like Purush, Swaranjali, Phagun, Shaagird — featuring young disciples of renowned Gurus.
Now this wonderful artist is pursuing his MA in Kathak under the able guidance of Kathak scholar Guru Dr Puru Dadheech, Dr Piyush Raj continues the legacy of his Guru through teaching and performing Kathak besides organising various activities related to the classical performing arts.
Natanam Studio for Performing Arts is an initiative under the aegis of Kathak Darpan Cultural Centre, a cultural charitable trust founded by Late Guru Bireshwar Gautam. He was an ace Thumri vocalist and an accomplished Kathak dancer. He was the founder-director of the Kathak Darpan Cultural Centre Trust which was registered in the year 2002. Dr Raj, the foremost disciple of the Late Guru Bireshwar Gautam, established the Natanam Studio for Performing Arts in 2018 in Mumbai and since then his Baithak evenings have been mesmerising Mumbai’s dancers and music lovers.
Till date Dr Piyush Raj has had six Baithak evenings and each one has been better than the other. Dance and music lovers have started to make a beeline just to witness this unique promotion of Indian culture. I attended the last Baithak where there was an abundance of music and dance. Post the wonderful show I sat down with the good-looking dancer and had a heart-to-heart chat about the popularity of his Baithak:
How did the idea of Baithak come around?
The word Baithak loosely translates into “sitting together for a specific purpose”. As artists we often gather casually to ideate, talk and discuss different aspects of dance and music. The idea of “Baithak” germinated from moving from a casual to a more informal yet meaningful space in order to crystallise these ideas. The Indian classical arts can be best expressed when the artist has a close rapport with the audience. The Baithak space provides and enhances this intimate interaction between the “kalakaar” and the “rasikas”.
Why did you chose the Mumbai suburbs for it and not the high-profile Sobo area?
In a teeming metropolis like Mumbai, gathering together to perform and appreciate art has become more and more challenging as the city expands and distances become hurdles to be crossed. For people in the far-off suburbs there are few easily accessible cultural spaces. One of the driving forces behind the Natanam Baithak was to create a cultural hub in this part of the suburbs; another being to provide a platform for aspiring and upcoming performers of the classical arts.
At Baithak, you have been promoting Indian classical music and dance only. What about other forms?
Why only classical? — The Natanam Baithak space is not confined to Indian arts only, it is equally open to performers of any classical tradition. The classical arts have always been a niche area of learning and performing as against the non-classical art forms. There is still a dearth of people and spaces to take the classical art forms forward. In its own small way, the Natanam Baithak hopes to contribute towards the preservation and promotion of these classical art forms.
Your Baithaks have become the talk of the town and has grown manifold. What are your plans looking ahead?
Consistency and perseverance are necessary values to pursue art. I want to develop audience sensibilities and sensitivities to the classical arts by nurturing the lay person into becoming a rasika. In this context, we will be exploring workshops, lecture-demonstrations, discussions, talks, seminars, etc in the Baithak space.
There are plans in the offering to create and curate a few unique productions and festivals which have their own USPs and add value to the art scene by keeping in mind our basic tenets of preserving, promoting and propagating the classical art forms. Our objective is to enhance the presentations of these art forms to make them more relevant and — “today” — whilst retaining the purity of the art form.
Why do you think your Baithak is special?
Our Prerna (Inspiration) series has stalwarts in the art field sharing their experiences in their artistic journey with a view to inspire and “edutain” audiences. Our Master Classes with senior artists provide young artists the opportunity to interact with them and absorb the nuances of the art form to enhance their own performances.
Which has been the most memorable Baithak and why?
Each of the Natanam Baithaks has been unique in its own way. Our emphasis is to curate and present a mix of artists — both aspiring and upcoming artists and some senior artists, so that the audiences get the best of the evening. However, our second Baithak — Shyam Rang — held in September last year was very special. First of all, it was kind of a celebration of the birthday of my Late Guru Bireshwar Gautamji. Secondly, for the first time almost 40 students trained in Kathak, Odissi and Hindustani vocals at Natanam Studio performed in front of the audiences. This was indeed an exhilarating moment for all of us to see that we are on the right track to promote and propagate the Indian classical art forms.
Baithak organised by Dr Piyush Raj is indeed one unique concept which not just entertains but even educates the ones who attend it. So the next time you are in the commercial capital of India, the crazy Mumbai city, and want to enjoy a close-knit evening of rich Indian culture and bathe in the colours of music and dance, then Baithak is the place to go to.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore, is a World Book Record holder, a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with three National Excellence awards and one National Achievement Award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org