Of Many Kathaks
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Aditi Mangaldas on the dangers of classifying dance into narrow boxes.
It is winter in Delhi. But inside the India Habitat Centre, thunder boomed, flowers blossomed and mist swirled as Aditi Mangaldas performed an extract from her classical Kathak solo production Footprints On Water for the 11th Jivan Pani Memorial Festival. Chronicling the changing seasons, varsha, sharad and hemant, she conjured up the descent of rain complete with the crash of a sudden downpour, the silence of the lull, followed by soil bursting with life. With the twirl of her arms, leaves scattered from trees, and with a clap of her feet, lightening flashed from the sky. Mangaldas's performance included all the highlights of a master Kathak dancer — pure dance patterns, virtuosi footwork, which increases in complexity and speed, evocative abhinaya and the recitation of bol (a particular structure of beats) of rhythmic pieces before showing it in danced movement.
Mangaldas has trained under Kathak greats like Kumudini Lakhia and Birju Maharaj and today is the choreographer and principal dancer of the Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company - The Drishtikon Dance Foundation, based in Delhi. As a dancer and choreographer, she has immersed herself in Kathak and is also a pioneer in "contemporary dance based on Kathak". Last month, she made news for turning down the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in the category of Creative and Experimental Dance. In a letter to the Akademi, she wrote, "I feel that the category in which I have been selected is incorrect... All my work has been in the field of Kathak, 80 per cent of which is in the classical idiom and 20 per cent is contemporary work, which is also strictly rooted in Kathak."
The correspondence between Mangaldas and the Sangeet Natak Akademi raised several issues, which have plagued Indian classical dance. Mangaldas sent them a note: "Kathak Kendra, the National Institute of Kathak Dance and a constituent unit of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, held a festival in which a young dancer was made to change her publicity material as her photograph portrayed her without a dupatta." To which, the "gurus of Kathak Kendra" (Rajendra Gangani, Jaikishan Maharaj, Krishana Mohan Mishra, Prerna Shrimali, Govind Chakraborty) responded, "We say that Kathak dance has a classical dress code like all other dance forms. That is the first identity of any classical form — like Bharatanatyam or Odissi or Kathakali. You identify any dance form through the costume first and that is the essential part of it, classically called 'Aaharya.'"