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Glimpses from Prayas 2016 #kathak

Adapted from http://rasikperformingarts.com

Coinciding with Republic Day, one of India’s three national holidays and one dedicated to celebrating our democratic Constitution, the talented dancers of Rasik Performing Arts presented its annual show in Epicentre, Gurgaon. For our dancers, Prayas 2016 was a culmination of a year’s learning under the gracious guidance of Guru Jayashree Acharya. I’ve been fortunate to learn from her and be part of this show and earlier ones for the past few years.

The blessed presence of Pandit Birju Mahahrajji at our show filled the atmosphere with a special electric charge. We all felt it and we hope our performances did justice to his great art and all-encompassing love and mentorship. Over 85 young dancers performed under Rasik’s banner during the evening, bringing a variety of items to a packed hall of rasiks and well wishers.

We were also honoured to have guests artists, dancers from Aakriti Foundation trained under Smt Sushmita Ghosh and eminent instrumental musicians Madhu Gopal, Goutam, Sunnu and Shiv Shankar perform at Prayas 2016.

Catch a few glimpses from Prayas 2016 below. We will post videos soon!

Pt. Birju Maharajji inaugurating Prayas 2016 and blessing all of us present Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanti

Pt. Birju Maharajji inaugurating Prayas 2016 and blessing all of us present
Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Our youngest dancers presenting Guru Vandana Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Our youngest dancers- Aparna, Bhuvi, Samaira, Shambhavi, Yavi, Meher, Yuvika, Raima, Pari and Panchhi- presenting ‘Guru Vandana’, an invocation to Goddess Saraswati
Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

‘Akaash’ by Mahi, Sneha, Ishita, Vrinda, Krisha, Anvi, Saraa, Suhani, Varaa, Eesha, Samaira, Shriya, Stuti, Manya, Lavanya, Kimaya, Ishita, Navya, Ashi, Adya, and Tishya Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

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Shuddha Nirtya in Jhaptaal by Anuradha, Anya, Arshiya, Arushi, Arzoo, Ashley, Dhrity, Eesha, Joanna, Malvika, Katya, Nandini, Nishtha, Panya, Riya, Sanjana, Nayanika, Sifat, Suhani, and Vidushi                                                                                                                                                            Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Prasad-5

Sargam in Bilawal by Anya, Ashna, Aditi, Elaina, Anahita, Anushka, Devina, Khushi, Mihika, Mansi, Palak, Simran, Tisha, Vedanshi, and Vritika                                                                             Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Thumri- 'Dekho ri langar' by Shruti, Saumya, Simran and Mukta Photo credit- Prasad Siddhanthi

Thumri- ‘Dekho ri langar’ by Shruti, Saumya, Simran and Mukta
Photo credit- Prasad Siddhanthi

Guru Jayashree Acharya Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Guru Jayashree Acharya
Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Jog tarana, Composed by Prateep Banerjee Anandi, Mahika Nair, Mahika Zutshi, Devyani, Ketaki, Nandini, Revati, Shubhangini, Saloni Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Jog tarana, Composed by Prateep Banerjee
Anandi, Mahika Nair, Mahika Zutshi, Devyani, Ketaki, Nandini, Revati, Shubhangini, Saloni
Photo credit: Prasad Siddhanthi

Chaturang, including 4 elementsof dance, percussion, sahitya, and gaana Dancers- Anya, Anumita, Anusha, Riya, Nandini, Yukti, Vaidehi, Khushi Photo: Prasad Siddhanthi

Chaturang, including 4 elements of dance, percussion, sahitya, and gaana
Dancers- Anya, Anumita, Anusha, Riya, Nandini, Yukti, Vaidehi, Khushi
Photo: Prasad Siddhanthi

'Madhav'. A Krishna Bhajan by Anandi, Mahika Nair, Mahika Zutshi, Devyani, Ketaki, Nandini, Revati, Shubhangini, Saloni Photo credit- Prasad Siddhanthi

‘Madhav’. A Krishna Bhajan by Anandi, Mahika Nair, Mahika Zutshi, Devyani, Ketaki, Nandini, Revati, Shubhangini, Saloni
Photo credit- Prasad Siddhanthi

Reclaiming streets to showcase talent [2/2]: The funniest Zumba class ever

Walking back from our Kathak morning at Raahgiri, we ran into a really peppy zumba session. Now, salsa beats never fail to do their thing and I found my feet tapping along of their own volition. Aadyaa was absolutely mesmerized by the energy in the air. With an exchange of glances that signified permission, she darted into the crowd and began to follow the instructor on the stage.

She joined a sea of kids, both boys and girls, ranging from age 5 to people in their late teens. Most of these super enthusiastic youngsters were from economically underprivileged households. You could see that from their clothes and many of them had the typical light brown streaks of malnourishment in their hair.  But their energy and enthusiasm surpassed anything I had seen before. They watched keenly and absorbed the instructor’s every move, even his expression and the nuances of his dancing. The workout, as I mentioned before, was based on Latino forms of dance, which are not familiar to most Indians. But these kids had it down pat. Many of them, it appeared, had been at Raahgiri before and memorized the basic steps already. One girl (in the pink sweatshirt) and a young man (in a red tee) stood out in their attitude and total involvement. They, and not the ones up on stage, were the talented artists at Raahgiri this morning!

Aadyaa joins a sea of young people doing Zumba! It's her first experience of street dancing :)

Aadyaa joins a sea of young people doing Zumba! It’s her first experience of street dancing 🙂

The instructor was right up there. Jumping, bumping, grinding were all part of his repertoire. All the funnier for seeing little kids try to imitate his moves!

The instructor was right up there. Jumping, bumping, grinding were all part of his repertoire. All the funnier for seeing little kids try to imitate his moves!

Sheer delight! To be one with so many, to be in the moment, to be part of it all...

Sheer delight! To be one with so many, to be in the moment, to be part of it all…

These two, you couldn't take your eyes off them :)

These two, you couldn’t take your eyes off them 🙂

Reclaiming streets to showcase talent [1/2]: Kathak on a Raahgiri morning

A group of us trouped off to Raahgiri on a Sunday morning. It happened to be 8th March, International Women’s Day. To back up a bit, Raahgiri started in Gurgaon as a movement to reclaim streets and has now spread to Connaught Place and Dwarka in Delhi as well as to Chandigarh and Bhopal. The idea is to cordon off a section of the city every Sunday for people to walk, cycle, run, dance, work out and generally have a ball without worrying about being run over by a car! We’ve been several times last year to do one or many of these things, but this particular Sunday was special. This time, we were there to support and encourage a group of talented young girls who learn kathak from my guru Jayashree Acharya.

Kathak at Raahgiri? Well, this is the kind of place where a hundred people are happy to bump and grind to a salsa or zumba workshop (yea, I’m following this post up with another one on the most hilarious zumba class ever!) a couple of dozen are taking a kick boxing demo elsewhere while a group of dedicated women slog on their mats in a power yoga session.

So there we stood, with the girls all decked up in colorful lehengas, jewelry and make up at 8:30 am…with a tepid scattered bunch of people for an audience loitering in front of the stage; half of them parent and relations of the performers! ‘This won’t do, will it? We got to show them what we got!,’ I thought.

On Guruji’s advise, I took charge of the microphone to introduce Kathak, it’s history, what it means and the significance of engaging with a serious dance form- a short introduction to engage and prepare the audience. Then, the girls came on stage and worked their magic. The mood began to shift. The people lined up on the other side of the road, not wanting to join in at first, now slowly drifted to our side of the road. Phone cameras came on, little children came and stared, cyclists stopped to watch, runners slowed down as they went by.

Kathak at Raahgiri was a runaway success, a great kickstart to the morning and hopefully, an inspiration for many more to showcase their talents on public platforms and spread the message that Kathak (or other forms of classical art) is not high culture, it’s also our public culture that we can share and enjoy. As for me, I’m thankful and proud to be part of a group of dedicated and spirited dancers who inspire and energize me everyday!

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Learning kathak from the maestros: Struggle & satisfaction

I’ve only been learning kathak for some three years, a very small amount of time when I compare it to those who have been immersed in the dance form throughout their lives. As my guru Jayashree Acharya tells us, this is a journey of constant, lifelong learning. Once you embark on it, it has to be with an attitude of submission and determination.

There are also times in your learning when you are asked to make a leap of faith, as we were this past weekend when Deepak Maharajji, eminent kathak exponent and son of the illustrious Birju Maharajji, spent some time with us in workshop mode. I’ve watched him perform at various points in time and have always been struck by his energetic style, an interpretation of his guru’s taleem (broadly, teachings, but far more..). He is a very masculine dancer, but watching him up close helped me appreciate other aspects of his dance, notably abhinaya (experession) and his effortless relationship with sur and taal (melody and rhythm).

Deepak Maharajji during the lecture demonstration that he concluded the workshop with

Deepak Maharajji during the lecture demonstration that he concluded the workshop with

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_DSC8622Before getting onto the floor myself, I watched Deepakji teach young children (among them my little one Aadyaa), who were completely engrossed in what he was saying and demonstrating to them. It was wonderful to see them pick up little nuances, one imitated the flick of his wrist, another copied the guru’s stance for the sam! When I was in the workshop, however, I found myself struggling quite a bit. One part of my brain was trying to understand the sequence and details, another was recognizing patterns to imitate. I remember thinking about how much more instinctive younger students were while they learnt and I willed myself to dance by instinct, let myself go and, at the guru’s instance, simply enjoy the experience! For the entire hour we learnt from him, I was ecstatically happy.

Teaching the young children. Notice how he is the centre and they are all around him, absorbed completely in the act of learning

Teaching the young children. Notice how he is the centre and they are all around him, absorbed completely in the act of learning

The energy in his movements was something the children caught onto, I noticed

The energy in his movements was something the children caught onto, I noticed

Performing the pieces they learnt

Performing the pieces they learnt

Jayashreeji and Barunji help the children interpret and revise the pieces

Jayashreeji and Barunji help the children interpret and revise the pieces

Our lot, enjoying the struggle!

Our lot, enjoying the struggle!

_DSC8531Perhaps I can recall only snatches of what we were taught. Those students who had learnt for longer and those who had better grasp of kathak, would be able to reproduce more of course. What I did take away was an enhanced involvement with kathak as an art form, a deeper sense of understanding, a certain attitude and the importance of linking movements with a narrative, a story. And a feeling of being blessed with a higher, almost sacred knowledge.

I saw the face of my guru Jayashreeji’s light up many times through the day, delighting in the moments of joy created by, not just the dance, but the interactions of artistic minds. I’m nowhere in that league, but I was privileged to observe and participate in such an atmosphere of unbridled creativity. For that chance, I have to thank my guru and my destiny….I can only hope this experience seeps into the way I dance! Let us see…

Weekend workshop: A fitting start to a delightful week of the classical arts ahead!

You know you aren’t so young any more when you are too tired to sleep at night after a few hours of intense dancing during the day. But you know you are young at heart when you wake up the next morning eager to begin again!

This sums up my experience of a 2-day kathak workshop held in Gurgaon at my guruji’s home. Shrimati Roshan Datye, eminent and senior disciple of renowned guru Late Smt Rohini Bhate came from Pune to teach us, bringing into my consciousness a whole new level of nuance and detail, enhanced attention abhinaya and an awareness of the theoretical aspects of natya that bind kathak to the great performing art forms across India.  It is this sort of exchange promoted by the guru shishya parampara that, in my view, demarcates the mundane from the truly meaningful in the world of the classical arts. My sincere gratitude to my guru Jayashree Acharya and to my daughter Aadyaa’s kathak guru Sushmitaji for giving us such a wonderful opportunity.

So much to learn, so little time! So thankful for the opportunity...Pt. Birju Maharaj, showing us the nuances of kathak and how we can relate it to our lives. 14th Oct 2013

So much to learn, so little time! So thankful for the opportunity…Pt. Birju Maharaj, showing us the nuances of kathak and how we can relate it to our lives. 14th Oct 2013

Smt. Roshan Datye who taught us for 2 days. A lady full of grace and energy

Smt. Roshan Datye who taught us for 2 days this past weekend. A lady full of grace and energy

Mere ghungroo...earnestly trying to learn, but a long long way to go...

Mere ghungroo…earnestly trying to learn, but a long long way to go…

Over two days, Roshanji taught three batches of students, ranging in age from about seven all the way up to 40! And at least 80 in number. She taught all three batches distinct stage-appropriate compositions. But beyond the compositions themselves, I was impressed by her own energy levels, her attention to detail and her innate ability to be a good teacher- a robust communicator who knows when to pick up the pace and when to slow down and her instinctive use of humor to highlight concepts or lighten awkward moments! Kathak thrives on analogies from our daily lives. A few days ago, we were blessed by the presence of Pandit Birju Maharajji (also at my guruji’s home) who also presented numerous examples of how kathak is drawn from simple everyday actions and emotions. Roshanji took forward that line of thought for me, helping me form many links inside my head, never mind that the body will take many more years of riyaaz to actually translate that understanding into graceful movements!

1240221_10151712498407851_1100834892_nThe two-day workshop set in motion a week of celebration of the arts by the Aakriti Foundation, run by a group of erudite artists including my guruji. This is an annual festival called Tasmai and is dedicated each year to a great artist this year Smt Rohini Bhate, Smt Datye’s guru. On the 22nd at the Habitat Centre at new Delhi, we look forward to none other than Pt. Birju Maharajji grace our festival with his presence on stage, preceded by a performance from the students of Nritya Bharati, Pune. On the 23rd, Pt. Sarathi Chatterjee and the Kedia Brothers will take the stage also at the Habiat Centre. The festival draws to a close on the 25th with dance performances by Maharajji’s children- for the first time, we will get to see both Deepakji and Mamtaji on stage and I really look forward to this. Students of Jayashreeji and Sushmitaji will also be on stage at Epicentre, Gurgaon on Friday the 25th. For those of you in Delhi and Gurgaon, there is plenty on offer. Do come forward to support the arts, for the love of beauty but also for the sake of the continuity of parampara (traditions) that are, as Roshanji reminded us yesterday, at least 3000 years old!

My emotional bond with art is also my tool for positivity

I feel blessed today by my good fortune in finding not one, but two gurus to guide me through my journeys in art and self-development. For these are intrinsically linked and I see that clearly more than ever before in my life.

Let me back up. Culling out lessons from the experiences of friends, family and my own, dealing with the stresses of urban life and staying positive in the face of multiple pressures are the most oft repeated challenges we face. For those who put all their eggs in one basket, by choice or otherwise, it becomes vital to excel in their chosen area of concentration, whether its the home, the workplace or a serious hobby. My strategy has been to diversify my risks so to speak and is in line with the fact that i do have multiple interests and I may say talents that I can pursue. For many years, I focused on studying and music suffered. If I turned to music, a full time job would mean it would get little attention. If I left it, my guilt would kill me. I would stare longingly at salsa dancers and die to learn. I would go to performances all alone and cry bitter tears of remorse.

In my thirties, in the middle of struggling to balance home and career, raising young kids, something snapped inside me. On an impulse, I joined Shiamak Davar’s dance classes, after a gap of ten years! As I learnt to take time out for myself and got back to dance, my confidence grew. Three years later, I started learning kathak, for the first time in my life. I also tried various music teachers till I found my current guru. Between music and dance, both of which I pursue earnestly and purely for self-satisfaction, I found the self-confidence to explore new avenues at work, to think creatively, to approach problems with a positive attitude. If a particularly tough tukda (technical piece in kathak) can be mastered by being attentive and through practise, if my voice can hit that high note that eluded me last year, then issues at work can also be tackled.

Today, I find myself far more centred than I have ever been before. Even if things don’t go as planned, if I don’t meet my expectations in one area of my life, there are other things happening to compensate. I had this vital insight this weekend, that I had been deploying this as my stress management and positive thinking strategy! Whatever works, I guess!

This morning, I had the fortune of interacting with two talented artists. Nishi Singh, a kathak exponent of the Jaipur gharana who weaves the nuances of the Lucknow and Benares gharanas into her dance thanks to her training under several gurus was invited by my kathak guru ji Jayashree Acharya for a lecture demonstration with us students. We were doubly fortunate today to meet Vidushi Mamta Maharaj, daughter of Pandit Birju Maharaj, who also visited the studio. In watching her love for her art and her versatility-she played the tabla, sang and danced with equal ease-I was reminded that love and passion, and an immersion in the arts can bring a fluidity to life that mere hours of tutelage and practice cannot. Mamtaji’s message was one of emotion, of the need to connect to your art through your emotional side as much as through the intellectual side. To me, it is a validation of the emotional bond I have had with music and dance for years. There was a time when I would be ashamed of crying at a performance or being too emotional to sing on certain days when Masterji was too harsh in me. But now I know those were the signs that the bond is there for life.

I sit out hearing Udai go through his music lessons inside. There are days when I see his tears of frustration at not getting his notes right. And I hope with all my heart that he forms this bond just as I have!

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Dancing kathak on stage: Why this has been my biggest high in years!

I am slowly beginning to realize just how traumatic urban living is getting to be. Oh, we would not give up this life easily, those of us who have lived in a city for long. We value our ‘freedom’ just as we bemoan the lack of safety. We love the anonymity, but worry about loneliness. We wonder how long the water will last, just after we’ve taken that refreshing shower!

I am certainly very much the strange urban creature, a powerhouse of contrast and confusion. I notice that we all find our own survival strategies to endure the strange confused nature of our city lives. Social networks have certainly begun to close some gaps for those of us who find it hard to have the energy to keep up with a ‘real’ social life; or we combine the two in some way to remain afloat on the tide of anonymous humanity that surrounds us. But this wasn’t enough for me and I found myself turning towards cultural stimulation to fulfill some of the void inside.

I took up kathak a year and a half ago and entered the world of the classical arts, slowly slipping into it and letting it seep into me. Soon after, I resumed training in Hindustani classical vocal music. My life- work, family, home, friends- all the things that I think and do find anchor in these two weekend time slots-one for dance and another for music.

The weekend gone by, it felt like one branch of me was bearing fruit when my friend Shruti and me performed on stage at Epicentre, Gurgaon. Minutes before the show, standing in the wings, I found myself calm and eager, and completely satisfied. A short while earlier, I had spontaneously touched my guruji’s feet, probably surprising her a bit, but really needing her to put her faith in me. I think the transfer of energy worked some little magic. I told myself that a few months of intense riyaaz and real desire to do well should be enough. And it was!

Shruti and me taking a pose as the alaap starts... photo credit: Nupur

Shruti and me taking a pose as the alaap starts… photo credit: Nupur

After completing our piece, a superbly choreographed Shiv Stuti ‘Damroo har kar baaje…‘ set in Raag Gunakali, Taal Roopak, I felt a level of achievement I do not remember reaching in the past few years through my many other pursuits. This had been a hard, personal battle. A battle to re-prioritize, to push myself, a test of self-confidence, a desire to fulfill a lifelong dream of being a classical dancer….all of that!

Of course, the credit goes largely to our guru Jayashree Acharya, for reposing her faith in us. For not questioning us, but simply taking our decisions for us at a time when we did not know what our own capabilities were. To offer us the experience of preparing a stage-ready dance piece, to learn to dance to live music of high caliber (Shiv Shankar Ray on the tabla, vocals by Anirban Bhattacharya and Pritam Ghoshal on the Sarod), to learn to focus, take criticism and be graceful about it. To be a student of an able guru, a hugely valuable experience. I have written about this before (on my experiences as a student, and as an observer), but in the past year and a half I have been gladly re-acquainted with the best aspects of the guru-shishya parampara, where the relationship between teacher and disciple is a continuously evolving one, bringing in aspects of spirituality, respect, devotion and commitment and moving beyond mere instruction and obedience.

This sort of training has a lot to do with why I feel a greater sense of satisfaction after this performance as compared to the many times I danced on stage through the past few years, as a student with Shiamak Davar’s group. That also involved practise and dedication, a lot of technical training too. But this involved a spiritual awakening that only the classical arts can invoke. It’s something I will remember all my life. Of course, there is much more to learn and it is an endless journey, but I’m grateful and proud to be able to be in this place, at this time…..

Shiv and Pravati pose

Shiv and Parvati pose

In motion...

In motion..

Shiv ki aradhana...

Shiv ki aradhana…

Really enjoying this bit...Shruti and me

Really enjoying this bit…Shruti and me

Finding happiness in dance: Vignettes from my kathak journey- Oct 15, 2012

My weekends are intensely cultural these days. That’s because I learn kathak on Saturday mornings and Hindustani classical vocals on Sunday afternoons. It’s been a long cherished dream for me to get back to both dance and music and once I had decided, there was no stopping me from soaking it all in!

Fortunately for me, I have found patient, good-natured and excellent gurus in Gurgaon. Learning under the tutelage of someone who not only excels at her art, but also is passionately in love with imparting its nuances to her students takes the experience of learning to a whole new level. I find that the informal interactions we have with our kathak guru Jayashree Acharya on art, culture, attitudes to life, how we deal with change in our society, values and a whole range of issues, have a direct bearing on our understanding of kathak as a dance form and the importance of pursuing and practicing the classical arts in modern urban Indian society.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of watching Jayashreeji perform at the India Habitat Centre as part of ‘Tasmai’, a festival organized by the Aakriti Foundation. What struck me, besides the mastery she has over her art form, was her high comfort level on stage, her easy interactions with the audience as well as with all her co-artists who were supporting her. I felt like I was part of her performance, not someone watching from the outside.

My guru, Jayashree Acharya. She is a disciple of the famed kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj and a superb dancer and teacher herself. Photo: Avinash Pasricha

Her students, aged between six and fourteen perhaps, performed a dance ballet ‘Paratatva’ at Gurgaon’s Epicentre a couple of days later. In terms of the theme, Paratatva dwelt on the importance of balancing the five essential elements of nature as a way to ensure the continued prosperity of our world. The raw power and beauty of nature, its sounds and rythms, its cascades and cadences were beautifully expressed by the children who performed via a skilfully choreographed ballet. Subtle costumes representing the colours of the elements-grey, orange, blue, green, brown- and a melodious background score added to the impact.

A capture from the dance ballet Paratatva

I enjoyed the overall effect of the dance compositions I saw, but also revelled in the joy of understanding some of the intricacies and even recognizing patterns (both tukdas and footwork) that we have learnt. A friend asked me whether I would be on stage some day and I didn’t really know what to say. I’ve always been the sort of person who craves the spotlight. I’ve performed many times- music, dance, drama, elocution….through school and college. I fancied myself quite the star, the diva.

But now, in my thirties, life has taken on a very different rhythm, a very different meaning. I savor the pleasures of learning and being taught without the bother of that competitive edge nor the bitterness of regret or failure. I enjoy both music and dance as art forms as well as ways to give myself the me-time I need. I have high expectations of myself, but I do not set boundaries or deadlines that stress me out. Now, in this way, I am truly enjoying the classical arts as they deserve to be enjoyed. No wonder, the good old traditions of yore placed the student at the feet of the guru, to learn, evolve and grow, bit by bit, over many years till maturity was attained, and beyond.

Jayashreeji’s students receiving their guru’s love and blessings at the end of the show

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