By Shrinkhla Sahai
Four disciples of Kathak exponent Shovana Narayan presented a festival of their guru’s selected pieces at the India International Centre in New Delhi. Lalit Arpan—Continuing the Guru-Sishya Tradition—was an ode to the evolving yet deep-rooted relationship between teacher and student that anchors classical art pedagogy. The festival featured performances by Shruti Gupta Chandra, Supriya Sathe, Mrinalini and Kartika Singh. Rising up to the challenge of performing well-known pieces from their guru’s repertoire, the artists revisited some works dating back to the 1980s and performed these pieces that were originally composed by renowned musician Jwala Prasad and choreographed and performed by Shovana Narayan. All four dancers expressed deep gratitude to their guru, affectionately called ‘Shovana didi’, and shared vignettes from their journey in dance.
The first evening was not just a regular performance, but an emotional and momentous occasion as the two dancers returned to stage after a hiatus of many years. Shruti Gupta Chandra is an established painter who received the Lalit Kala Akademi award in 2005. After a break of 28 years, she chose to widen the canvas of her creativity with a powerful comeback to Kathak in this festival. In 1973, she was Shovana Narayan’s first disciple and the reason she started teaching dance. Supriya Sathe leads a successful corporate career and returned to her passion for dance after a decade.
The two dancers opened the festival with a duet, Ganga Stuti. Endowed with striking stage presence, Shruti and Supriya exuded the pure joy of dancing. Moving on to the solo section, Supriya Sathe presented Teen taal. In the abhinaya segment, she interpreted the composition titled Chaand, set to music by veteran musician Jwala Prasad, who joined her as the vocalist for the evening. Beautiful poetry unfolded as the child looks out longingly at the full moon, coveting it as a toy. Amid the moonlight and her child’s plea, the mother arranges for a vessel of water to reflect the moon and bring the distant dream into her home as an enchanting lullaby. Though Supriya created the mood, the piece called for lively and animated expressions that would have added a pinch of ‘mazaa’ (fun and enjoyment) to the performance.
Shruti Gupta Chandra also began with Teen taal—the evergreen sixteen beat cycle. She chose a unique piece to display the rhythmic variation. Anaghat was not the regular Teen taal elaboration, it blended intricate footwork with an ending just before the sam. Instead of the impactful landing at the sam with a flourish of footwork as is usual, the end of the rhythm cycle was expressed through the gaze. Shruti’s grace lay in her varied interpretations of the gaze—sharp, subtle, coy, bold, playful and many other hues. Her gaze was as precise as her footwork. The abhinaya piece was a connoisseur’s delight. Based on Maithili Sharan Gupt’s poem on Yasodhara, Sakhi, ve mujhse keh kar jaate (I wish he had confided in me before leaving), it expressed the plight of the wife of Gautam Buddha on discovering that he had disappeared into the night without informing her. Shruti excelled with her mature and involved abhinaya as she evoked sorrow, anger, helplessness and hope in her portrayal of Yasodhara.
The second evening brought an array of dynamic performances by two young dancers. Kartika Singh chose the challenging 11-beat rhythmic cycle—Ashtamangal taal for her nritta portion. She executed the parans and chakradhar with precision and grace. Kartika’s dazzling technique and taiyyari were evident in her neat lines and crisp circles. The abhinaya portion depicting three incidents from Krishna’s life was significantly complex and required a deeper study of characters and nuanced expressions. Moving between roles as Radha, Gopika, and finally Draupadi, Kartika could have enhanced her performance with a more versatile gamut of emotions and expressions.
The festival concluded with a stunning performance by Mrinalini. The nritta sequence of Dhamaar taal, the 14-beat rhythmic cycle, was interspersed with fascinating parans like Panchamukhi—where the same syllables were repeated in five different speeds, and the Gaupuchha paran that tapered off like the tail of a cow. A promising soloist, her talent lies in the way she weaves a story through her dance, in both the nritta as well as the abhinaya sequences. In a radical departure from the Ramayana compositions that revolve around Rama, she performed a piece on Ravana, presenting his perspective as he prepares for the final battle. Reflecting in his chambers, he dithers between a warrior’s pride and a wise man’s humility. Mrinalini played out the events of Sita Swayamvara and Sita Haran as well as Ravana’s inner conflict with subtlety and sensitivity. Her abhinaya had as much finesse as her footwork and she has the qualities of a rising star.