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- Chitra Mahesh

February 8, 2019

I was so excited when I heard about Meraki, a Kathak presentation and that too a creative initiative by Kumudini Lakhia. I was looking forward to some fireworks on stage as Kathak sometimes amounts to. All that dynamic footwork, chakkars, costumes and rhythms that are so completely mesmerizing. In a one hour program, that is what I would look for. I don't claim to be an expert, but I have been watching dance and its many forms for over three decades and I know what keeps me gripped and what does not.

And I am not about to say that Meraki didn't do all of this! It did. And there were moments, especially when the males did their piece - a sawal jawab that was totally vibrant and the choreography beautifully executed. And then when Sanjukta Sinha took center stage and actually danced, there can only be a few who can follow in her footsteps. What was a bit off for me was the volume at which the entire production was put out. What was the sound person thinking of? And then again in a one hour program, I would prefer a tighter, crisper narration where the soul searching could be kept to a minimum. And I mean an absolute minimum!

I didn't really resonate with the initial part of the production, when Meraki is going through angst about her world and the world outside. Her dark costume didn't help and until the actual dancing started and with the music so loud, I couldn't wait to see the actual core of Kathak which is amazing footwork, bends and turns. For me at least! But having said that, the music was so very evocative (Abhijit Pohankar, Samiullah Khan, Bernhard Schimpelsberger). It plunged you into a vortex of feelings and that combined with total admiration for the dancers and their tremendous energies, was elevating!

I would think the lighting was one of the best things of Meraki. Done by Gyandev Singh, a master, showed how creativity and showmanship needs people like him. The way it was executed reminded me of Broadway shows, where drama is played out in the suffusing of light and shadows. It was spectacular and gave the dancers such sense of drama. Meraki is about a young girl lonely and sad and feeling very claustrophobic. She is looking for that inspiration that will pull her out of depths of her emptiness. Once that realization comes it is always the beginning of a discovery of the soul and self and soon, she is on the path. She sees other young girls dancing with joy and companionship and then a young man comes across her path - full of life and love. She finds herself responding to this call to be alive and joyous. Which is what happens and she finds herself in her dance and the joy of living becomes known to her. The last piece of the production had dancers in a grey costume, signifying the universality of everything including dance and movements. The rhythm that permeates through every aspect of life was sought to be visualized. How each choreographer/ director does this is subjective. It is their vision and way of expression. This cannot be qualified or quantified and therefore cannot really be judged. For me, it was a bit of a downswing on the wow factor.

I have the greatest respect for Kumudini Lakhia and I am glad I was able to see something like this in Chennai and that too at 8pm at Music Academy. It is almost impossible to see this dance form and with such a vision of creativity and it was an opportunity to witness something special.

Chitra Mahesh is a senior journalist based in Chennai.