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Smaran - Homage to Kathak Guru Pt Vijai Shankar
- Nita Vidyarthi

August 13, 2019

In order to pay homage and offer gratitude to their revered teacher, Kathak Guru Pt Vijai Shankar, his senior disciples in collaboration with Arpan Centre, We ALL and EZCC, organized 'Smaran,' an evening of the Gurus's compositions in dance and on tabla at the Satyajit Ray Auditorium, Rabindranath Tagore Centre, ICCR, Kolkata.

Pt Vijai Shankar

Pandit Vijai Shankar passed away in March 2019 at Benares, but the event, initiated by the seasoned Kathak dancer Nandini Sinha, could not be planned earlier. So the organizers let it go with the spirit and time and arranged for a meaningful evening recently to acquaint the audience and allow them to savour the taste of some of the Guru's work and reflect the sophistication of the marvellous dance potential of an illustrious dancer and teacher.

Born on 22nd April 1948 in Hyderabad, the Telugu man had a fascination for Kathak and received his training under Ramkrishna Shukla. Later, he was groomed by Pt Birju Maharaj at Kathak Kendra, New Delhi. He trained in tabla under Khalifa Ghulam Hussain Khan and showed his wizardry on rhythms through his Kathak which he loved, composing exotic, dazzling and intricate patterns. The internationally renowned distinguished dancer taught and performed at various notable festivals in India and abroad and was responsible for laying the foundation of Kathak in Japan. Since the 1960s he performed the lead roles in Pt Birju Maharaj's dance dramas and received acclaim as Krishna in Krishnayan (1966) and Lakshman in Katha Raghunath Ki (1978). As a student, he often sang in Maharaj's productions. His soulful singing as Uddhav in the production Krishna is etched in the mind of his contemporaries.

Guru Vijai Shankar had enriched the students of a number of renowned institutions of the country and abroad and had a strong connection with Padatik of Kolkata. His institution of dance, Shankar's Kathak Dance Research Centre was set up in Kolkata and Varanasi. His associates, admirers and disciples in Kolkata presented an offering of his memorable compositions through the art he loved, laced with fond reminiscences and forged them to enrich the coming generation.

Guru Vandana

After the inaugural address by distinguished academician Dr. Bharati Roy, the evening began aptly with a Shradhanjali, Guru pranam and offering of flowers by the disciples. The renowned dancers of the city, Mahua Mukherjee, Priti Patel, Poushali Mukherjee and Aloka Kanungo joined in. The Guru Vandana followed, set to the Guru Stotram and performed with sublime grace and serenity only by his disciples, all clad in white. The soft movements of Kathak overpowered the usual speed and strength of the dance form and the singing of "Mantra Moolam Gurur Bakyam…Moksha Moolam Gurur Kripa" enchanted the audience in the packed auditorium creating an aura of mysticism.

The first performance was a pure dance recital by Kajal Bose, a seasoned dancer who displayed a grip on rhythm in vilambit laya. His duet with Ashutosh Chatterjee showcased their tayari in ginti and neat footwork and a fine sense of stage-space exploration while executing chakkars. Nayanika Chowdhury's technical competence was evident in her udaan, parans, tatkar, footwork and the verves in the stamps of the foot while negotiating the tihai, landing pat on the sam. Her abhinaya skills in the Bindadin Thumri "Gagara chalata dekho Shyam" matched the sensitive challenges in the mellifluous number.

Kajal Bose & Ashutosh Chatterjee

Ashavari Pawar
Nandini Sinha

Chumki Sarkar, Papia Debnath and Sayonee Chavda presented a synchronised uncluttered, crisp group presentation of tohras and tukras keeping a tight grip on the grammar without any clashes while executing chakkars - once again proving their solid training. Ashavari Kumar (Pawar) announced that she would present an item titled 'Fill in the blanks' and she filled in the blanks with gratifying footwork, parans, tihai and movements of a sword in hand in the item 'Jhansi ki Rani.' She concluded with an abhinaya set to the ghazal "Kabhi ban sawarke jo aagaye" from Pt Vijai Shankar's production of Tagore's 'Khudito Paashan.' Expectation was more from this acclaimed dancer but what was important and primary was that the evening was meant to pay tribute to the guru through dance and get a glimpse of his work and not to focus on individual capabilities.
Dancer Madhumita Roy has a flair for rhythms and so her array of pure dance numbers was a treat. A gratifying 'Kalai ka andaz' came in the form of innovative use of the wrist (kalai) with the rhythm accompanied by exquisite footwork followed by a special gat that she learnt from her guru. Madhumita mentioned that "Guruji was fond of jatis" but the demonstration was inadequate. Steering through udaan, parans like the gajagamini and bijli parans, she played with numbers in ginti and Guruji's favourite intricate rhythm based bolparanth based on "Na dhindhin na". A small abhinaya "Alas nayan kabhi moodh moodh jati hain" was followed by the Hindi translation of the ashtapadi "Yahi Madhava" by Pt Jasraj. Needless to say this was sounding rather unfamiliar! By Madhumita's own admission, Pt Vijai Shankar had taught her to portray Radha as the khandita nayika in this piece. The nritta passages in the interlude provided lovely support.

Nandini Sinha has an arresting presence and is a dancer with amazing degree of energy and strength in nritta, be it tatkar, chakkar, paran or footwork. She presented a bouquet of small bols. To her, "every bol has its own story". A stylish dancer, she demonstrated her prowess on rhythms with ladi, ginti, ginti ka joda, tihai, in teen taal, madhya laya negotiating the fractional beats with ease and an elegant lift of one of the foot backwards in ultimate grace. The control and sound imagery of both her tatkar, the paltas and alankaars, and manipulation of the cadence of the ankle-bells were precise and exemplary - from the crescendo to the whisper soft tintinnabulation of a single bell. The 'Urdhachakra Hasta Katha' (raised hand movements) was a highly imaginative and rare item with limited hastakas followed by a graceful yet vibrant chaal which had an interesting rhythm pattern of missing a fraction of a beat in one cycle. Her concluding item set to Mohammad Shah's ghazal "Rumjhum badra barasey" had musical beauty embellished with fine tohras and tukhras. All the performances had live music with the vocalist and the tabla maestros present and Chandrachur Bhattacharya on the sitar.

Reminiscences by distinguished tabla maestro Ustad Sabir Khan, chief guest and acclaimed Kathak Guru Susmita Misra, vocalist Anand Misra and tabla maestro Pt Gopal Misra, who played Guru Vijai Shankar's special composition of the tabla bol "Takita kata dhin" revealed not only his unstinted devotion to Kathak but a creative mind with a broad vision of cultivated understanding of the arts, evolving, teaching, seeking the finer nuances and enriching it with an approach entirely his own. Pt Vijay Shankar would be remembered as a loving guru and one of the foremost exponents of the dance form. The event concluded with a group presentation by the disciples.

Dr. Nita Vidyarthi is a veteran critic of performing arts and writes on dance, music and theatre in leading publications.

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