Kathak workshop by Guru Parwati Dutta
- Vibha Ramaswami

October 10, 2016

The five day Kathak workshop of Guru Parwati Dutta, held at IGNCA, Bangalore, organized by Gramsci Foundation whose trustee Anandji worked against so many odds, was with a difference - completely a non-commercial venture where knowledge from the guru flowed from her heart in a seamless manner enriching participants with nuances of Kathak, leaving all participants in a truly enlightened state.

On day one, by medium of teaching thaat, uthaan and a few ginati ki tihais, Parwati Dutta stressed upon the importance of several core aspects that Kathak dancers need to be aware of and work all their life as dancers to improve continually - right from the way to stand in order to create the feeling of floating in space, the essence behind movements, the mukh vilas (i.e. the facial bearing), aesthetically drawing lines in space, subtle neck movements, torso stretch and compression, fine wrist movements, body angles, manner in which to shift weight, connection between minor and major parts of body for certain movements, whether and when to emphasise on foot stamping or sound of ghungroos and more - all with concrete examples which made it easy for all participants to understand as well as think about these aspects not in a peripheral but in a deeper manner.

On the second day, Dutta taught a few more ginati ki tihais and parmelus. While on one hand tihais were lessons on layakari and ways of making variations by rearranging bols and changing tail endings, on the other hand were also lessons on nuances, tiny little flourishes that will make the rendition of footwork patterns more interesting and enjoyable. To make the participants understand the importance of "under-statement" in Kathak , a very interesting analogy that Dutta gave was that of Lucknow chikan embroidery - similar to that Kathak movements are fine, delicate and can be majestic but with elegance. When teaching parmelus, she drew the attention of participants to think how different intra-forms (a term coined by late Dr. SK Saksena of small pieces of Kathak) of Kathak have different flavours. The same movement used in different intra-forms would need to be rendered in a different manner. She sensitized the participants to think of movements in several, say 15, different flavours and practice and render accordingly. Equally interesting for participants was to learn about history of certain movements from Mughal era, reason behind the arched back and bend of the Kathak dancers etc. Like Pt Birju Maharaj says, she emphasized that, “if we see Krishna everywhere in every atom around and think of Krishna Leela, then our dance creates magic.”

On day three, Dutta introduced participants to Dhrupad - it's history, relevance to Kathak, a lot of background about the essence of the singing style before touching upon Sool Taal theka and the version of the same used generally by Dhrupad singers. Dance historian and curator, Ashish Mohan Khokar, who came over to meet Dutta and observed the workshop in progress, was delighted as well and said that such nuances which the guru was exposing the Bangalore Kathak dancers to, were rare to be seen here and it was a great opportunity for the participants. When teaching certain chaals (graceful gaits or stylized walking) suitable for a Tansen's Dhrupad composition, "Tero Bal Pratap", the emphasis was on to understand the style of music well and then use movements accordingly in order to do justice to the music. She empowered the participants with the thought process that needs to go behind when using Kathak movements for Dhrupad - e.g. the spherical nature, the heavy weight, dignity, continuity of movements without rough edges.

On day four, she took up faster and more powerful intra-form of Kathak - parans. Parwati Dutta picked few bandishes (traditional set compositions) which participants were familiar with and then emphasized once again on the nuances related to the same. She explained how the powerful nature needs to be rendered paying special attention to clarity in footwork, heavy weight, crisp movements, sometimes whirling in nature. She emphasized on how the same movement that was used in parmelu, now had to be rendered in a different manner. Variations in the bandishes that she made, helped participants understand how to compose based on traditional bandish. When dealing with another paran, she taught three different options of rendering the same, which once again gave good understanding to participants on the kind of movements that can be used for the same bols (lyrical phrases). She drew attention of participants to think about the way pakhawaj is played, its powerful and resonating sound and then use the flavour of movements accordingly -with concrete examples. She also spent some time on the importance of padhant, on how to have the lyrical phrases rendered with clarity, emphasis on the right parts and in a kind of musical tone. Participants got to try out padhant of some really tongue-twisting bols.

Day five was devoted to the most graceful, soft and delicate parts of Kathak - gat nikas and Thumri. The Krishna Bansuri Gat that Parwati Dutta taught included several types of graceful chaals. To a Kathak enthusiast who has always been mesmerized by the beauty and elegance of gat nikas, this was a major learning treat. She made so many nuances clear with technical details - ways to move, shift and keep weight on certain parts of feet, the feel with which to lift the leg, though imbibing these might take a long time. She took the Thumri by Bindadin Maharaj, "Aawat Shyam" which most participants were familiar with, to explain how one can elaborate the same line of sahitya (text) in several artistic ways, considering different perspectives giving technical details on the body poise, the kind of mukh vilas, the kind of smile, the mood, the nature of divine as well as mortal characters while touching upon once again many nuances related to some chaals and movements.

Through the course of the workshop, Guru Parwati Dutta gave several examples to make things very easy to understand, at the same time often spoke about certain aspects - heavily loaded and deep statements which could be like tools for Kathak learners to sharpen their skills - some examples of her statements which we can use for life in every aspect of our dance are:
“When looking at a movement, think of it like a sculpture or an architecture and observe how there is a dialog between the space inside you and outside.”

When finishing a tihai on sum she said, “Feel like home-coming with ultimate bliss.” “Think of what all you can do to enjoy, cherish every moment of dance.” This workshop could have been titled as ‘Nuances of Kathak’ - it was loaded with huge number of nuances related to several intra-forms and compositions of Kathak. Parwati Dutta, a great thinker, scholar, exponent, inspired all participants to be thinkers, to constantly aim to upgrade our dance, movements, to pay attention to the minute and subtle details, to think beyond what we already know, to constantly try and make our dance more beautiful and make our endeavour to preserve this heritage. As an invited participant, this workshop enriched me on the Kathak front, but also left me in awe of the guru, who taught us from her heart innumerable nuances which are not easy to obtain.

Vibha Ramaswami, KathaKonnect, Bangalore