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Sublime Kathak by Divya Goswami

August 30, 2017

Treated to so many run of the mill variety of Kathak recitals, the sheer elegance and understated beauty of Divya Goswami Dikshit's Kathak recital at the Stein auditorium, Delhi, came as a heart warming experience. Under the tutelage of Guru Munna Shukla of the Lucknow Gharana for the last few years, the evolved maturity of Divya's dance became obvious right from the start with the Meera Bai Pad wherein the protagonist expresses her total absorption with Banke Bihari deity of Brindavan. Not a redundant move or eye glance marred the dancer's complete concentration in paying homage to the Lord. That the musical accompaniment with Shakeel Ahmed (tabla), Amrita Mazumdar (vocal), Ghanashyam Sisodia (sitar), Kiran Kumar (flute), with Padhant by Jyotsna Banerjee had the sur-filled melody with all the classical virtues, added to the performance.

Photos: Inni Singh

Divya's utter grace gives movement an alap like continuity, the meend provided by the flowing hand movements and half circles drawn on the floor by the feet, all revealing a fluidity which has no jerks or staccato phrases - and yet in this movement flow the laya and time cycle are very clearly reflected. It is dance which comes from a deep inner understanding of how Kathak technique works. As if moving on water, the utter smoothness of each move sans any jarring points, communicated with surety the rhythmic accents in a teental tihai or even a delicate Thata genuflexion or changing patterns of upaj in footwork. So too the boneless smoothness in the chakkars - clockwise and anticlockwise, the Chakradhar Amad which in just one tiny move of the hand drawn towards the chest (as if freeing itself) conveys the Ched/Chhad impression through abstract movement, the Ginti tihai in its arithmetical placing sounding like an echo, the Dha ta ka thunga bandish were all endowed with an original flavour, quite unlike the much rendered intra-forms one is normally used to seeing.

Set to the strains of the monsoon season Megh Malhar was the Thumri with the familiar images of ghor megha and Bijouri chamak in Savan with the dashed hopes of Hari avanki and piya ghar nahi. After rejoicing in the image of Hari on the swing, the finale expressing separation was conveyed with restrained intensity - preserving a quality of inner stillness where nothing was overdone. This quiet elegance was reflected even in the aesthetic costume and grooming. And in the Tarana in Bhairavi, the gat nikas had all the delicate grace and even in the tatkar with changing accents in rhythm in the concluding moments of the teental nritta, the total absence of any hint of exhibitionistic virtuosity sets this Kathak dancer apart. This is what Kathak recitals should emulate to be. Guru Munna Shukla seated in the audience could be justly proud of his disciple.

'Apara' looks at Krishna through his symbols
Like the minimalism of a blue bordered saree in a halo round the head with no other features, powerfully suggesting Mother Teresa in Hussein's painting, or as the pair of spectacles conjures up the image of Gandhi, the identity of Krishna springs from his symbols - the dark raincloud Neela Megha, the body draped in the golden yellow fabric Peetambara, Mayil Peeli the fallen peacock feather on his crown, and the Murali or flute which spins the web of melody enrapturing the entire cosmos. Exploring through the Bharatanatyam technique, movement lines, forms and colours and building up an awareness of Krishna, through the accoutrements of symbols associated with the deity, Ameya Repertory from Bangalore, under the leadership of dancer/choreographer Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathy, presented the group work APARA at Deshmukh auditorium of the IIC, Delhi. The concept and dance visualisation by Chitra had music devised by Praveen D. Rao. In the opening scene, the imagery associated with Krishna visualised water in many forms like lotus filled ponds, flowing Jamuna waters, cows grazing on its banks, of the Kadmaba tree under which Krishna frolicked with the Gopis and played his flute - much of the scenic detail flowing from Pichvais created by painters whose painted fabric scrolls hang behind Krishna's idol within the sanctum in many a Rajasthan temple.

Dancing to the purely instrumental ragamalika music finishing in a melodious Bhoopali, six dancers on the stage in slow, expanding movements captured a feel of flowing water in different moods, and with hand gestures showing cows, lotuses and buds, went through what was perhaps the most demanding part of the production in its very vilambit control. Not based on any textual sahitya, selected verses from scattered texts, substantiating the dance imagery at certain points, did form part of the music. The expanse of the blue sky with the gathering dark clouds portending heavy rain, communicated through the heavy pakhawaj percussion sounds in the music in the next scene of Neelameghasyama, had melody in various shades of Malhar with rhythmic bols Dheem Tana Thom, the imagery supplemented through Rabindranath Tagore's song Gaghan ghan chhayo. A verse from the Krishna Karnamrutam also appeared as supportive expression.

Photo: Shankar Venkatapathy

Photo: Manoj Marar

Then came a spurt of golden yellow in the costumes for the Peetambara segment, the folds and rustling pleats of this cloth finding an ideal home and friend, draping Krishna's form. Verse from Tiruppan Azhwar's Pasuram extols the evening's ochre hue which colours the peetambara, its intimate contact with the body of Krishna draped round his navel wherein the Creator Brahma himself resides. The music in ragam Shahana had a spurt of taanam too, when abstract movement conveyed the idea of the peetambara folds swaying to the dancing forms of Natawara. The bright pink vests teamed with the yellow peetambara provided a stunning colour combination.

The resplendent peacock blue bands in Mayil Peeli portrayed the peacocks strutting, the striking plumes attracting attention despite the not very graceful walk. Set to ragam Kanada, fleeting action caught the lone plume Peeli falling off the peacock's body, groping in solitary loneliness, till suddenly finding itself perched on Krishna's crown, from where it surveys the world with pride from its high perch.

While ideationally the work gets high applause, the danced images in places called for more sustained group discipline, in a production exploring images, which are far from the familiar adavu based movements. This type of group movement understanding needs repeated rehearsals. The music too in parts as in the Rabindranath Tagore song could do with more body. Perhaps rendered in more than one voice, the impact would be better.

In Murali or the segment built round the flute, that inevitable part and alter ego of Krishna, music set to Desh and Piloo was visualised with the notes becoming the Mandala of circle surrounding Krishna, in a symbolical Raas of Krishna dancing with the Gopis. The movement narrative also takes the form of an interaction between flute and Krishna, their intimate closeness even inciting jealousy in other devotees. And the finale of a jati in familiar mode one could sense the very relaxed dancers coming back to conventional movement, and combining in easy synchronisation. With repeated presentations, APARA is bound to evolve as a work.

Writing on the dance scene for the last forty years, Leela Venkataraman's incisive comments on performances of all dance forms, participation in dance discussions both in India and abroad, and as a regular contributor to Hindu Friday Review, journals like Sruti and Nartanam, makes her voice respected for its balanced critiquing. She is the author of several books like Indian Classical dance: Tradition in Transition, Classical Dance in India and Indian Classical dance: The Renaissance and Beyond.

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