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Kathak Dance Workshop and Bhaithak by Guru Vaswati Misra
- Vibha Ramaswami

December 5, 2017

Sarani, the Whitefield Dance Collective, organized a Kathak dance workshop by Guru Vaswati Misra from Nov 17 to 19, 2017. The workshop was conceived as one pertaining to skills and technique enhancement and registrations were full within no time of the announcement. And why not? It was after all by Guru Vaswati Misra, who with more than forty years of teaching experience in the field, is known to be an awesome teacher, besides being a gifted performer and choreographer. She teaches with tremendous passion, energy and details to ensure that learners can absorb easily and quickly be it at a beginner, intermediate or advanced level.

On Day 1, Guru Vaswati Misra, identified aspects that each of the level of learners could improve on by working with the intra-forms that the participants already knew. This helped the participants focus on the corrections and refinements. To re-enforce key aspects to work on, she quickly created and taught new but similar intra-forms. She taught in various ways how to execute specific movements and chakkars (pirouettes) sharper, swifter and with more power and energy and also explained the reasons behind the same. She stressed on the modulation needed while doing padhant (oral recitation of composition before performing the same) by giving examples and exercises, explaining how and why the variations in tones and punctuations makes the padhant interesting for the audience.

She taught some movements from scratch as well - giving all the minute details, starting from the exact position of hands w.r.t. body, to the point by point positions of the torso, usage of not just eyes, but eyebrows, the energy required in the arms, the working of wrists and more. This was fantastic both for those not familiar with the movement (since they learnt a new movement) as well as for those who already knew it as it helped them in technique improvement and in discovering what they lacked in terms of showcasing that move.

On the second day, besides new tukadas and tihais for the junior group, Guru Vaswati Misra introduced participants to several exercises to improve basic posture, neck movements, palta and chamak (brightness) in the eyes to name a few. She had loads of interesting wrist exercises which children as well as adults could easily relate to and perform. Her exercises for working on bhaav (expressions) were on one hand fun for kids, on the other hand had lots of inputs on details such as how a dancer must keep in mind the size, shape, distance of the object or the person being depicted. She used concrete examples for the same. I was amazed to see how she taught the difficult meend movement, two versions of the same, which most participants could grasp easily! With the advanced group she worked on refining a thaat - giving lot of details on the movements, weight balance and shift, angles involved as well as the emotions in the course of and on arrival at the sam. She taught a beautiful Gat Nikas - sada gat again in great details, right from the way to start with a palta - the important aspects of the same, coming out with nikas and the chaal (gait) which had a beautiful mix of power and grace.

On the third day there were some more interesting tukadas and tihais for juniors. Vaswati Misra's unique teaching methods are all so powerful and effective on one hand to grasp, interesting and fun on the other hand. It was a pleasure to see how quickly and well even the beginners and kids grasped new tihais with her hand gestures and got charged up with the fantastic voice modulation of her padhant. And mind you, passionate teacher that she is, she wouldn't ignore the slow learners - she helped them as well to ensure they understood. She taught us how to play with sound - create interesting effects by simply controlling the volume of the footstep. She introduced common concepts in thumri rendition by teaching the senior group, Pt Bindadin Maharaj's popular thumri - "Kahe rokat dagar payare" focusing more on mukhaj (facial) and satvik (inner) abhinaya (expression).

Her unique methods of teaching are such that one easily remembers the key point she makes. Knowing well that in just three days, learners cannot possibly implement all the corrections and refinements she was making, she made sure she broke down each movement into minute parts and reminded us of specific aspects we need to practice more in order to be able to execute them with the needed energy, sharpness and finesse.

While the focus all through the three days of the workshop was on grammar and exercises to develop the same be it related to tihais or tukadas, or even bhaav, there were several other takeaways for participants of all the skills - new interesting tihais, tukadas, chands, gat-nikas, thumri, loads and loads of effective and interesting teaching methods which I value a lot as a Kathak teacher. While she possess traditional, in depth-knowledge, her teaching approach is very modern. She encourages all learners. Her sweet comments to kids like “you are almost there", "you like it? Let's try it, do it with me" etc., made them feel so much at ease with her. Truly a humble guru getting down to the level of the novice, with the purpose of making them grasp the lesson quickly while making the learning itself so enjoyable.

Three blissful days of learning at the workshop culminated with Guru Vaswati Misra's "Bhaav Bataana" (the telling of a mood) Baithak. This was the icing on the cake and was attended by lovers of dance, in a beautiful setting - Guru Vaswati Misra performing, sitting under a tree in a garden, spectators around on the lawn. And yes, even the Baithak was sold out! She started off the session with a little quiz for the little ones in the audience...where she emoted and the children guessed the bhaav she conveyed. With her sweet smile and twinkle in the eye, she immediately connected with the young audience.

This was followed by four pieces that Guru Vaswati Misra performed, showcasing four quite different moods. She began with a stotra on the Goddess Bhavani and was an excerpt of a poem by Adi Shankaracharya. Purely devotional in nature the mood depicted total surrender of the self to the divine. 'Pekhal' written by the poet Vidyapati was a total contrast and far gentler in mood. It spoke of a young girl's description of a dreamlike beautiful form she had perceived, moving slowly on the banks of the river Yamuna. Her conversation with her friend described her astonishment and wonder.

The third piece was an excerpt from 'Arpan,' a choreographic work based on a number of poems written by Dr. Harivanshrai Bachchan. This particular piece, which was performed to spoken poetry rather than a song shows us how a truly talented artiste can handle any literary form and expound it beautifully. It spoke of the poet's fear about the afterlife. “On this side, beloved, there is you, there is all the sweetness life holds, on the other, who knows what will be?" The performance ended with a thumri showcasing the khandita nayika, or the angry woman.

The audience was spellbound by the play of emotions on the dancer's face that transported them from emotion to emotion... despair, reproach, bhakthi, love... It was the genius of the gifted performer that each bhaav enacted was experienced in the hearts of the enthralled audience. I consider myself fortunate to have got the opportunity to attend her workshop once again, for it not only helped in understanding details about several technical aspects of Kathak, but it also exposed me to several unique techniques and methods to teach Kathak to young or old, novice or advanced learners. My gratitude to Guru Vaswati Misra and Sarani, The Whitefield Dance Collective, for organizing this workshop.

Based in Bangalore, Vibha Ramaswami is the Founder of KathaKonnect Dance Academy, a non-profit organization. She was a successful Software Application Architect in the past. She quit IT industry after working for about 2 decades in order to spend her time and energy on her passion, Kathak dance.