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Dance felicitations offered to Kumudini Lakhia
- Dr. S D Desai
e-mail: sureshmrudula@gmail.com

June 4, 2019

Kumudini Lakhia, founder-director of Kadamb Centre for Dance and Music in Ahmedabad (est.1967) completed 89 years on May 17. The faculty and current senior disciples at Kadamb as also Bijoy Sivram of J G College of Performing Arts saw the importance of the day and with excitement and imagination planned and held special events to felicitate her - the former on the premises of Kadamb, the Kathak centre of international repute, the latter at the spacious auditorium of Shivanand Ashram with the Governor of Gujarat as the chief guest.

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Dance the Space at Kadamb on May 17, repeated on 18, thrilled the invitees - among them dancers, an architect, a sculptor, an art director, a costume historian and designer and a heritage conservationist. As evening shadows with a peacock's distant notes receded, everyone including Kumiben, as she is fondly called here, occupied the chairs placed on the ground and the building with a stairway leading up got just slightly lit up (Lights, Harry). Sanjukta Sinha, who has imaginatively conceptualized and choreographed this dainty 30-minute site-specific dance piece, makes a few observations and with a smile requests the audience to rise and move with the dancers.

To begin with, in front on the stairs appear as in a miniature painting four pretty girls (Mihika, Mitali, Vidhi, Krutika) with a flowing dupatta and hands held skywards in gratitude under the edge of a tiled roof and leafy twigs hanging. The viewers' appreciative gaze has them animated and, to soft notes from the sarangi, they elegantly descend playing an invisible flute. The viewers find themselves moving, as in a trance, like those gopis did to the enchanting notes from Krishna heard from under the Kadamb tree!

It gets a bit surrealistic now. The choreographer sees space for dance everywhere. At a little height, on the parapet suddenly appear three bearded boys, all clad in white ordinary jabhbha-pyjama. Pankaj, who leads the other two (Shantanu, Hiren), is seen clinging to the wall initially and when they are together they demonstrate something of the masculine power of Kathak with dashes of Kalari they have of late been learning, managing balance within a limited width. Their guru, walking with the crowd, looks at them wide-eyed and smiling.

Her smile widens when damsels (Rupanshi, Manasi and others) in pink, all over and on their cheeks, eyes gleaming with joy and confidence, emerge in the gallery right in front at eye level. When the viewers thirsting for more are close to the practice hall with a wall-size mirror, a group of teenage girls (Kuhuk, Maahira, Nirzari) and two boys dance gracefully for them to collect and they are nearly ushered in. The elegant ambience, a slice of the Mughal era, has the performance space sprinkled with diyas and the space in front has gaddi seats for the Durbaris to sit and watch!

Riding strains on the sarangi and wearing a sombre mood with a distant look on Ramya Iyer's slowly rendered classic interpretation of Fayyaz Hashmi's stirring lyric aaj jaane ki zid naa karo, Sanjukta walks in attired fully in red, sits stylishly and gives such intricate abhinaya matching pretty well the lyric word by word that it becomes the most cherished experience of the evening. Finally, yet another cluster of young dancers beaming with a smile perform in a room. And that's a full circle round and inside Kadamb.

Each one of them is emotionally attached to their guru, who is accessible to them like a friend their age, each has a passion for their dance form and together they have a sense of freedom in their pursuit. The guru is known to teach them the dance skills and at the same time to be creative when they apply their skills to a theme. Kadamb embodies to them this creative approach to Kathak, Kumiben has so carefully nurtured.

It is this approach that finds a fond appreciation even outside the form and the institution. At the function to felicitate her two days later, exponents of other arts and dance forms as well turned up and loved to greet her personally. Significantly, the state Governor OP Kohli, a spiritual leader Swami Adhyatmananda and a leading businessman John Geevargese felicitated Kumudini Lakhia for her contribution to art through Kathak and to society by nurturing values and creativity among individuals. Excerpts from a documentary being prepared (Bhargav Thakkar) on her life and work were also screened.

The dance presentation at this event was Vivarta, an abridged version of Kadamb's celebrated recent production (2017). It is based on Bindadin Maharaj's lyrically worded song, originally of seven stanzas, considered Kathak's lakshan geet tracing its gradual evolution to the modern form with Krishna as the guiding force. It has an imaginative visualization by Kumudini based on Madhup Mudgal's enthralling creative music interpreting it with varying classical ragas.

Kadamb's irrepressible young performers danced with joyous abandon on Shivanand's wide stage for a large gathering of rasikas in front. With supple movement and intricate mudras in the first part Nira Ta Ta Dhang they seemed to be breathing the coolness and fragrance of the surrounding as Radha and Gopis and the invisible Krishna in the shringara mood. Patterns portrayed in space and time at the culminating moment of Kathak's elevated sophisticated form today remained etched in memory. Rough edges showed up though in the piece put together at a short notice.

An exclusive portrayal of Brijabhaan nandani, Roopagarvita Nayika Radha with all her lyrical charm by Sanjukta is reserved for a Thumri in the second part. The grossness of the body gives way to the lightness of being when the nayika seems to see her own and her lover's face getting merged in the mirror held in the left hand and the right touches the other end of the teeka at the parting of her hair. This realization finds an ecstatic expression in the Raas that follows.

Performances at the two venues as part of felicitations to Kumudini Lakhia entering nineties are symbolic of her legacy of the Kathak tradition combined with creative freedom.

Dr. S.D. Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti, Nartanam and Attendance. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.