When a Guru dances...
- Sumeet Nagdev
Photos: Girish Nambiar
December 27, 2017
"Aaj dil khush kar diya" (You made my heart happy today). I loved hearing that from her as a student. Somewhere innately you want to imitate your teacher but push that frontier of imitation and go beyond. Sometimes highbrow teachers put a thick wall of amour proper, defining limitations of reach and some keep the door of surpassing their own abilities always open. This Kathak whiz is that.
At NCPA's Pravaha Dance Festival on 14th Dec 2017 in Mumbai, I was obviously amazed by her wit mixed with humility served on a platter of kindness. That's why in 2011, I wanted to be with her and garner that understanding of impression. In the few years of knowing her I realized her minimal nature. Not a horde of students, not a show of figurines and definitely not hiding her vulnerable nature whether on stage or on her grandstand she called life. While around the Kathak diaspora, there evolved a few too many with frenzied quick turns, lightning footwork and athletic tukras (repertoire) that garnered the unknown audiences inside the theatres and made them believe in the coming of age Kathak dance arts. It definitely felt needed for the time shift.
But, I knew there is something unseen and amiss on the stages of experience and expression alike. Like you love talking to your partner but no one can explicate when you just stare at them and find sagacity in an instance. When you run a marathon with full vigor and find splendor in the blob of water going down your throat and pacifying you for all the running thoughts. When you keep laughter as your medicine in a sprinting city life but know that the real dosage is sitting still in the Himalayas and feeling the sprint of your heart. This Guru found it.
In her first showcase of planned choreographic works, it clearly felt that she believed her students would extract from her spirit and become an embodiment of her life experience. As she is expected to go against the norm of being in a norm, she paired Indrayanee Mukerjee, her student for over a decade with Akhila Nair, her student since only a tihai (3 years). It was surprising to see emotive coordination of terpsichoreans with different time zone experiences but a Guru sees beyond time, and hence when Lord Shiva's earthly connections were called out in the first piece, devotion came from different spheres. In her third and final piece of play came the cheer of Kathak, but her second presentation on an ashtapadi redefined what divine romance could be. It was there she broke barriers in presentation. Akhila kept dissolving in the stillness of time and her heart pausing through her expression brought the light in the eyes of her guru who looked at her embodiment in herself, nurturing gravity. Kathak became a turning of harmony, footwork of illumination and a repertoire of weakening of the knees for the spectators who were surprised with the choreography pushing them to find amusement even in stillness. The distinctive music design of the ashtapadi by an off-center musician Vinayak found a perfect match to the symphony of the dancers' subtle articulation.
After the presentation, it felt like a butterfly had evolved out of her chrysalis and is flying around near the green room doors. It was enchanting to see the Guru open doors for all to come in. The green room chatter was all there but Akhila and Indrayanee kept taking their Guru's name by not only putting their hand on their ear like is tradition, but also on their heart cause they don't just respect her for she showed them a path, they love her because she embraced them with devotion to find their own path. All the doors were left open to take pictures with the students of Guru Uma Dogra.
Sumeet Nagdev is the artistic director of Sumeet Nagdev Dance Arts, Mumbai.