Celebrating Kathak through ‘Kathak Darpan’

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One of Indian most revered classical dance performers, Pandit Rajendra Gangani, is in Sydney – not only for a live show, but to hold an intensive six-day Kathak workshop.

Sydney’s Indian cultural school, Swastik Institute of Dance managed to bring one of India’s most revered classical dance performers, Pandit Rajendra Gangani, to stage a dazzling Kathak concert at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre on October 28. Not only that Pandit Gangani ji will be hosting an intensive six-day Kathak workshop for students of this timeless art form in Sydney.

Pandit Gangani is the recipient of the 2003 Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (the then president of India, Abdul J Kalam, himself honoured Pandit Gangani with the highest award for contribution to Indian performing arts), and is considered one of the strongest exponents of this dance form in world-wide.

“One of the most crucial reasons why – despite his busy schedule – Pandit Gangani has agreed to travel to Sydney all the way from India is because he wants to give Australians the opportunity to experience the beauty of Kathak,” says Sumati Nagpal, the artistic director of Swastik Institute of Dance.

While there is no dearth of Indian concerts and live shows in Sydney, Pandit Gangani’s performance is unique, in that, it’s entirely dedicated to Kathak.

“Our show, Kathak Darpan, is all about this classical dance form. It’s a rare opportunity for people living in Sydney to experience the full, true and unadulterated might of Kathak,” adds Nagpal.

The workshop will be held in the week leading up to the performance at Swastik Institute of Dance from 22-27 October.

“This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people living in Sydney to learn from such a world-renowned artist. And once again, it’s not about Swastik, it’s about the art form. This whole project is about Kathak, not Swastik,” says Nagpal.

Ahead of his performance, Pandit Gangani spoke to us about the show and the workshop. Here’s an excerpt by Akash Arora..

Is it true that you cancelled a show in Ujjain so you can come for Kathak Darpan in Sydney?

I didn’t cancel it, but, yes, I was meant to perform in Ujjain and the dates clashed with the timing Swastik had in mind for this show. So I asked the organizers in Ujjain if there was any room to re-schedule and there was. So here I am performing at both the shows.

Tell us a little about your show in Sydney.

Kathak is such a diverse dance form – it can be gracefully slow and furiously fast. It can have mesmerizing twirls and precise footwork. It can be sharp and it can be fluid. And what I love about Kathak Darpan is that it showcases all these different aspects of the dance form.

It is a traditional performance?

Yes, it’s completely steeped in the culture and tradition of India. One of the segments in the show is called Gatbhao. In this segment the dancers tell stories but they don’t use any words – they only use expressions. And the stories are taken from some of India’s most revered mythological epics. Different emotions are tackled, ranging from the terrifying scene of Draupadi cheer haran to the harmless light-hearted flirting between Radha and Krishna on the banks of Jamuna.

So is the show quite spiritual in nature?

I wouldn’t say it’s spiritual – I would say it’s just Kathak. Traditionally, this dance form has taken a lot of inspiration from Indian mythology. So this show will encapsulate a lot of that. For instance, one of the other segments is based on the life and shlokas of Lord Shiva. But it’s not all religious. The Teen Taal segment of the show, for instance, is all technique-based – all about twirls and footwork and sharpness and fluidity and precision and grace. It’s all about Kathak in its truest form.

Tell us a little about the workshop you’ll be conducting for Swastik.

I’m really excited about that. Because that’s one thing I haven’t done in Australia – teach Kathak. This art form is really close to my heart and nothing gives me more pleasure than sharing it. And to share it with people based outside of India is a wonderful opportunity. I have created the curriculum in such a way that everyone and anyone who’s interested in Kathak can be part of these workshops and learn from them. To really gain for this workshop you will need to be an intermediate or advanced student – but that is the only requirement. Beyond that nothing else matters. It does not matter how young or old you are. It does not matter how long you have learnt Kathak for – one year or 10 years. Everyone and anyone with a base in Kathak can gain from these workshops.

You’re quite traditional in your approach. How do you feel about young performers who are giving Kathak a modern, almost Bollywood twist, and becoming YouTube stars?

I get that question all the time. And I always use the river and canal analogy. Kathak is the river. And these dancers are canals. If you want to move the river’s water you need the canals. If you want to communicate the depth and beauty of Kathak to the new generation, you need these dancers. Art, like water, is fluid. It moves, it evolves. And that’s perfectly fine as long as it does not drop its purpose and essence.


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