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Panch Tatva: Kathak conference and performances
- Vijay Shanker
Photos courtesy: Kalashram

July 16, 2019

The Panch Tatva festival of Kathak featured a conference in perspective of 'Innovations and Explorations within the Kathak repertoire in the City of Dreams, Mumbai.' It was held at Bhavan's Cultural Centre in Andheri in association with Kalashram during May end. The festival also featured the performances of some young talented Kathak dancers. Kalashram is headed by senior Kathak exponent Renu Sharma, who is among the foremost disciples of the veteran Pt Birju Maharaj.

The Kathak conference had registered participants attending various sessions over two days featuring senior Kathak gurus and renowned personalities. The distinguished panellists were Pt. Birju Maharaj, Padma Sharma, Shailesh Shrivastav (singer). A.N. Sharma (writer), Shekhar Sen, Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Purnima Pande, Chairperson UPSNA (Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi), were the distinguished guests for the evening, who joined the panellists and presented their views on tradition and innovation. Purnima Pande stated that the style of presentation of Kathak has changed for the better; it has become more flamboyant and stylised, due to the contribution of great mentors like Pt Birju Maharaj. The panel discussion was conducted and moderated by Saswati Sen and Renu Sharma. Distinguished guests were actor Jackie Shroff and Anup Jalota.

Expert opinions on various relevant topics on Kathak were presented by Kathak exponent and actress Neelima Azeem and Kathak dancer Jayantimala. The veterans observed as to how Kathak has evolved and changed over the years from the “kathakaar” stage to the present platform and how Hindi cinema has portrayed Kathak in varied scenarios and glorified and popularised the most popular classical dance style of northern India by being featured in movies like Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 'Devadas' and Kamalahasan's 'Viswaroopam'. Jayantimala pointed out that Sitara Devi was the daughter of Pandit Sukhdev Maharaj who was a Brahmin priest, hence it was not easy to step out of the traditional and religious mould in order to take up dancing seriously as normally those days, girls from respectable families were not allowed to dance and it was prohibited but it was sheer determination and appreciation from personalities like Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to effect a new awakening of the classical dance forms.

Paper presenters were Gauri Sharma Tripathi, Manasi Deshpande, Varda Pandit (in absentia), Vibha Ramaswami, Devesh Mirchandani and Lalita Panse. The comperes for the evening were Anand Singh and Sunil Sunkara.

The evening performances presented Kathak dancers whose lineage can be traced to the Guru Shishya Parampara of the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak. The theme was 'Evolution within Tradition' showcasing choreographic pieces on recorded music. Choreographers of the evening were Renu Sharma, Gauri Sharma Tripathi and Rujuta Soman. The first two choreographies were by Renu Sharma, who was initially trained by Vikram Singhe (ganda bandh shaagird of Guru Acchan Maharaj). She revived a Chaturang from the Rampur Darbar written by Nawab Raza Ali Khan. Staying true to the music composition as per the original notation, variations of different postures illustrated by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in 'Nazo' and 'Banni' were incorporated to give a feel of the Nawabi era. The nazar, nazakat and ada were the hallmarks of the piece which was presented by talented teenagers Antara and Tanvi from Kalashram, Mumbai.

Poorva Shah

Antara and Tanvi
The second presentation of the evening was a Kajri, semi classical music popular in Uttar Pradesh. The longing of a woman separated from her lover during the monsoon season was presented through exquisite sanchari bhaav highlighting the abhinaya aspect in Kathak. The lyrics and choreography was of Renu Sharma while the singing as well as the abhinaya was by Kathak dancer Poorva Shah from Pune. Both the above pieces brought to the fore, grace, finesse, intricacy of yesteryears and were deeply appreciated by the dignitaries and art connoisseurs present.

As a contrast, young dancer Tarini Tripathi brought to the stage speed and contemporary presentation of Kathak under direction of her mother Gauri Sharma Tripathi in 'Silhouette', a piece with a European outlook. Multiple pirouettes ruled her dance expressing in her unique style the traditions of her mother and grandmother Guru Padma Sharma, disciple of Lacchu Maharaj. It was thoroughly enjoyed by the young audience stressing the fact that their taste lies in speed.

The evening ended with established dancer Rujuta Soman from Pune who represented Guru Rohini Bhate and her graceful dance through Trishna, yet another choreographic piece based on a composition of the veteran vocalist Kishori Amonkar. Blessed with a striking personality, Rujuta revealed her command over technique and expressions and danced with elegance and charm.

Ayan Banerjee

Rujuta Soman

Nidhi Prabhu

Elisha D Garg
Ayan Banerjee presented an innovative choreographic piece 'Gyan' (enlightenment) on music composed by Pt. Birju Maharaj in the 1970s, with complete involvement and devotion. Nidhi Prabhu, disciple of Dr. Manjiri Deo, and Elisha Deep Garg presented tradition as passed on to their generation by their illustrious gurus and their innovations within the traditional Kathak repertoire.

The audience explored Kathak as it traced its influence by the 'Desh and Kaal' of the dancers and dance tradition they have learnt as they experiment and innovate in order to make their own space in the world of Kathak.

Vijay Shanker is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.

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