I had always hyped up 2015 to be the biggest and best year of my life. Little did I know it was also going to be a rollercoaster!
There were high expectations of this year, simply because of the milestones. It was DNC’s official anniversary of 10 years on 1st April. This gave me a chance to look back and reflect on the progress of the company since I naively started it as a young adult just ten years ago. Little did I know it would flourish into a family like institution which so many people have taken benefit from.
I remembered all of the students who have come and gone in the past ten years. The numbers must be in their late hundreds. What I find fascinating is so many people joined DNC thinking it was just a dance school, but soon enough became a part of a unique culture and lifestyle.
Many have taken this process further and accelerated or enhanced their spiritual development, using DNC as a platform.
It still gives me pleasure to see new faces walking through the doors of the DNC Studio, excited but also unaware of what the next few months or even years may bring for them. Many get immediate physical benefits, some experience better clarity and balance of mind and a lucky few get a kind of spiritual awakening of a higher purpose.
This year was also my 30th Birthday. All of my 20’s had gone into building up the dance company and establishing the studio, so it felt only right to celebrate the big day by doing what I love most – dance! I performed a full length Kathak solo recital, with live musicians at the Nehru Centre.
It was a big process leading upto it, as I collated all my material learnt with both Shila Mehta and Pratap Pawar from the past decade. There was a lot of trial and error, organizing the content into a structured order and then performing it to various small groups as a trial. It was also a challenge physically for me to perform for such a duration, following my health scare two years ago.
I was very proud with my delivery on the day and I have noticed the students who attended on the day, more inspired. It reminded me that I need to perform regularly to motivate them.
The big challenge was then to re-focus my mind immediately after the 24th June show, and organize the Summer Production in just a month! A lot of careful planning and time went into putting together our Grand show on 25th July at Beck Theatre. The audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the educating and entertaining line up of songs and choreography, accompanied by spectacular costumes. The buzz backstage was phomonomial and everyone seemed to really pitch in to offer their help. I smiled with pride as I realized that I had achieved the sense of community I had desired when I first started DNC.
Many people ask me what my next goals are. For now I am just enjoying continuing to learn, teach and take my students deeper into the art form.
People often ask me what it is that initially drew me to Kathak and what it is today that continues to keep me engaged in learning and developing. I believe that Kathak found me in my early teens and within a short time, became something meaningful and powerful to steer my life.
I recall that my early training and exposure to Pandit Birju Maharaji, at a time when I was not even ready to be in the same room as him must have helped. I remember welling up with tears in my eyes, when I watched him dance, heard him speak and even when he sat quietly watching his assistant teach us. Although I stood at the back of the room struggling to keep up, I felt his presence and aura around me. It was an empowering feeling, as though I had finally come home.
One of my vivid memories of Maharaji is watching him demonstrate a Mayuri. His brilliant execution of a peacock was striking and exquisite. It gave me goosebumps and even today when I recall it, something strange happens within me. He literally became a peacock for those moments, absorbed and enlightened.
Another is of his popular portrayal of baby Krishna stealing butter in his Mother’s absence. The innocence on his face, the plead in his eyes and the pure simplicity was mind blowing. For that moment, I forgot I was watching a man in his 70’s. All I saw was a beautiful child like Krishna. This made me realize that dance has the power to touch people in such a profound way.
It was perhaps these memories that stayed with me and created my benchmark for Kathak. Fortunately or unfortunately, after this grand exposure, I was not so easily accepting of Kathak, as I craved to see that level of maturity and elevation.
My favorite aspect has always been, and still is today Thaat. Thaat is a piece usually performed towards the beginning of a recital. It consists of soft, swaying motions at a slow tempo (Vilumbat laya), using the subtle limbs such as torso, wrists, neck and eyes. It is then contrasted with a sharp movement concluding with a stylized stance. The beauty of Thaat is, that it is continuous. I have seen it performed for a long duration, with a series of stances acting as ‘resting postures’. It is like watching a bird fly from one nest to the next, never settling. Always resting. It is a perfect introduction for the audience and dancer to communicate, through the tantric motions. It was said that during the Mughal period, when the Kathak dancers were forbidden to dance for Gods or deities, they used Thaat as a way of internally reciting mantras. Hence the face should be satwick (pure) during this. I have seen many dancers perform Thaat in a sensual manner but again my early exposure to my Guruma and then to Maharajis’ elevated execution inspired me.
Many years into my training I developed a burning desire within me to share. Not only share the techniques I had learnt of a dance form with such a large vocabulary of movement and rhytym patterns, but an urge to share the principles and values I had discovered which shaped me. I began teaching, only to be rewarded by the progress of children as young as 4 years old upto adults as old as 60 years connecting with themselves through this powerful art form.
Since then there has been no looking back. I ironically discovered the word KATHAK to be written in my name and surname combined. Since then it becomes my mission to educate and promote this magnificent art form.
I have understood Dance to be a Science. It has measurements, hypotheses, facts and figures. It seeks answers to age-old questions. To excel in it, as in any science, one must have focus, skills, research, and perseverance. To understand dance, one must have strong foundations in rhythms, gestures, balance, and language. Define new dimensions. Research the oldest architecture of human form. Dance.
Learning any form of Art is upon the artist’s perception, and therefore there is no right way or wrong way of interpreting it. Many times a painter’s picture is not perceived the way he wanted it to be, due to misconception or ignorance. Therefore the concept is the same with Kathak. It is an ancient Indian art form, which originates from the North of India. Although it is still considered a sacred dance form, Kathak has gone through tremendous changes, which makes it one of the most demanding forms of dance for one to master. It is one of the oldest dance forms in the world today, holding a legacy of traditions & values.