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Choreographing SRINGAR - The Raja Rasa

January 24, 2023

SRINGAR - The Raja Rasa. LOVE ... King of Romantic Sentiments ... Ruler of Erotic Emotions. LOVE ...... the emotion from which all other emotions are said to emanate.

No words can speak as eloquently as photographs can reveal .... the profound differences in choreographic expressions of Sringar Rasa in classical north Indian Kathak and in western modern dance and classical ballet. The tender eloquence of interlocked eyes and restrained lack of physical contact in Birju Maharaj and Kumudini Lakhia's Kathak duet contrast with the wild abandon and melding of bodies in Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins duet from George Ballanchine's ballet CHACONNE and the primeval animal innocence suggested in Merce Cunningham and Meg Harper's duet in RAINFOREST.

Pt. Birju Maharaj & Smt. Kumudini Lakhia in RATI KAMDEV
Pt. Birju Maharaj & Kumudini Lakhia in RATI KAMDEV
Choreography-Birju Maharaj
Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins in CHACONNE
Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins in CHACONNE
Choreography-George Balanchine. Photo by Max Waldman

Merce Cunningham & Meg Harper in RAINFOREST
Merce Cunningham & Meg Harper in RAINFOREST - Choreography-Merce Cunningham
Photo by James Klosty

Studying all three dance techniques and watching productions emanating from their movement vocabularies, I've developed my own choreographic vocabulary. I've never aimed for stylistic "purity". I don't believe in it. Dance styles need to breathe with the times, otherwise they die.

Two productions which I've created for my dance company, The Kathak Ensemble & Friends, display my syncretic choreographic vision.

In 2010 the W.H.Auden Estate finally loosened its restrictions on the use of Auden's magnificent love poem LULLABY (written in 1939), and the Estate issued a license to the Kathak Ensemble to use the poem in choreography.

To provide context for Auden's poem, I created a full-evening production entitled FLASHPOINT, referring to the temperature at which an object or idea catches fire. FLASHPOINT Part I, POWER, explored the heroic power of the 14 beat rhythm cycle Taal Dhamar and the cosmic power displayed by Shiv Nataraj, Shiva, Lord of the Dance in Shiv Vandana. Translated from the original Sanskrit.

Shiva, Whose body is the entire universe
Whose speech is the sum/essence of all language/sound
Whose jewels are the moon and stars
To Shiva - that embodiment of pure emotion - I bow.

FLASHPOINT Part II, LOVE - Kavit included a traditional Kathak depiction of love - a solo rendition of the kavit Vahi he kadamba / There is the kadamba tree by the 19th Century Lucknow Gharana poet Bindadin Maharaj. In his kavit Bindadin encapsulated the nostalgic sorrow for lost love between idealized lovers - the archetypal human beloved - Radha - and the divine lover Krishna. Remembering her youthful love play with Krishna, Radha - who has touched and then lost the ineffable divine - laments:

There is the kadamb tree [vahi he kadamb ...], where Krishna played his drum and flute
The cool breeze now feels like the hot desert wind
There is the Jumna River, whose waters quenched my thirst.
Now that water burns my throat like fire.
Without Krishna I am filled with longing.
When he was here I was content.
But now I can hardly bear this mortal breath.
Without Krishna the flowers wilt on the branch
And Vrindavan's little alleyways seem empty...

-Translated from the original kavit in Braj Bhasha
written by Maharaj Bindadin, ca. 1850, Lucknow, India

FLASHPOINT Part II, LOVE - Lullaby - The kavit's celebration of romantic love between divinity and human contrasts with the unsentimental picture of ephemeral, imperfect human love in W.H. Auden's 1940 poem Lullaby.
Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Excerpt - First verse of LULLABY, written by W.H.Auden, © 1940

The movement vocabulary I used to illuminate Auden's poem was inspired by Kathak's abhinaya techniques, but it ranged far outside the boundaries of classical Kathak. The unsentimental realism of Auden's poem was accompanied by the unhurried musical phrasing and lyrical melodies of Samuel Barber's CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN and ORCHESTRA (1939/1940).

As in many Kathak Ensemble productions, the chosen dancers brought a variety of training into the choreographic process, as well as adventurous spirits willing to try all the movements and rhythms I presented. The choreographic stew included Bharata Natyam, Kathak, American modern and tap dance, ballet, Broadway dance, ballroom dance, Rabindra-nritya, as well as Bangladeshi, Japanese, American and European folk dance. My choreography didn't copy literal steps of those techniques, but it suggested their movement qualities and archetypal cultural images. The individuality of each dancer is celebrated.

FLASHPOINT Parts I & II - excerpts from 19 March 2010 @ Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater - YouTube

Lullaby - Sandhya Menon - Anup Kumar Das - Caron Eule.
Photo © Ira Landgarten

Lullaby - Caron Eule - Scott Lewis - Ahnya Chang - Sandhya Menon - Sowmya Viswanath. Photo © Ira Landgarten

Lullaby - Matthew Wagner - Ahnya Chang - Sandhya Menon (partially obscured) - Anup Kumar Das - Scott Lewis (background) - Yayoi Suzuki - Sowmya Viswanath - Caron Eule. Photo © Ira Landgarten

Lullaby - Caron Eule (incomplete image) - Scott Lewis - Sowmya Viswanath - Matthew Wagner. Photo © Ira Landgarten

Lullaby - Anup Kumar Das - Sandhya Menon (hidden behind Anup) - Ahnya Chang - Yayoi Suzuki - Scott Lewis. Photo © Ira Landgarten

To create a contrasting companion piece for the meditative lyricism of LULLABY, I choreographed the final movement of John Adams' VIOLIN CONCERTO. Entitled TOCCARE - literally "touch" - this section was danced at the same breakneck speed played by Gidon Kremer on his recording of the piece.

As the lights came up at the beginning of TOCCARE, Anup stood alone for two seconds in a pose reminiscent of Merce Cunningham's iconic pose from his choreography HOW TO PASS, KICK, FALL and RUN.

Merce Cunningham
Merce Cunningham in his choreography HOW TO PASS, KICK, FALL and RUN - Photo © James Klosty & The Merce Cunningham Trust

Anup Kumar Das in TOCCARE
Anup Kumar Das in TOCCARE / Touch - Photo © Ira Landgarten

Anup then sprang into action, leading the dancers in a rollicking romp. His hijinks were meant to evoke the spirit of Shakespeare's Puck, the instigator of mischief in Midsummer Night's Dream. Interweaving and intertwining, the dancers touched each other in joyous abandon.

TOCCARE / Touch - Scott Lewis - Matthew Wagner - Caron Eule. Photo © Ira Landgarten
TOCCARE / Touch - Anup Kumar Das - Caron Eule - Ahnya Chang - Yayoi Suzuki.
Photo © Ira Landgarten

TOCCARE / Touch - Anup Kumar Das - Caron Eule (background) - Ahnya Chang - Matthew Wagner - Scott Lewis (background).
Photo © Ira Landgarten

TOCCARE / Touch - Sowmya Viswanath & Matthew Wagner.
Photo © Ira Landgarten
TOCCARE / Touch - Anup Kumar Das - Matthew Wagner.
Photo © Ira Landgarten

TOCCARE / Touch - Yayoi Suzuki - Anup Kumar Das - Caron Eule - Scott Lewis.
Photo © Ira Landgarten
TOCCARE / Touch - Anup Kumar Das - Matthew Wagner - Scott Lewis.
Photo © Ira Landgarten

TOCCARE / Touch - Sowmya Viswanath - Scott Lewis (background) - Chie Mukai -Matthew Wagner (behind - only head is visible) - Anup Kumar Das. Photo © Ira Landgarten
PREMIKA - Love in a Classical Mode
Ashta Nayika - "the eight heroines" - a systematic classification of characteristics of women in love - first appeared in the Natya Shastra, a foundational Sanskrit treatise on Indian performing arts. Dated loosely between the 5th / 2nd century BCE and 2nd / 5th century CE, its authorship is attributed to the dramatist-sage Bharata.

Listing the names of the eight nayikas and their relation to their eight corresponding nayakas highlights the male-centric nature of this seminal classification system, which has generated seemingly infinite variations in Indian performing and pictorial arts. The avastha - a word defined as "situations, states, conditions, circumstances" -- of the eight women in love can be broadly summarized as follows:

Vasakasajja - one dressed up for union
Virahotkanthita - one distressed by separation
Svadhinabhartruka - one having her husband in subjection
Kalahantarita - one separated by a quarrel
Khandita - one enraged with her lover
Vipralabdha - one deceived by her lover
Proshitabhartruka - one whose husband is away on a journey
Abhisarika - one going to meet her love, despite obstacles

I've frequently felt uncomfortable while reading poetry, watching performances and listening to music lyrics based on the concept of Ashta Nayika. As a modern woman I've mentally resisted the paternalistic, patriarchal point of view expressed in many of these iterations. I've inwardly cringed, when the dancer depicting a particular nayika displayed coy modesty and girlish behavior in order to please or manipulate the male beloved, who is physically absent in India's solo dance forms. In the hands of inexperienced dancers, such abhinaya seems to me like mawkish posturing.

As a modern woman I've avoided performing and teaching some of the traditional Kathak repertoire based on ashta nayika archetypes, because the woman is rarely in a position of agency - except perhaps in an underhanded, manipulative manner. Most often she is reacting to the man - waiting for him to motivate her next actions and emotional reactions; waiting for the man to resolve her sorrow or anger or longing or anticipated pleasure. Compounding my discomfort with this genre is the knowledge, that the girlish reactions to romantic situations might reflect interactions between nayikas and nayakas in a time of arranged marriages between barely pubescent girls and much older men.

And yet ... why do I often feel, while watching an inspired performance based on one of the Ashta Nayikas, that the situation is familiarly true-to-life, and that I've "been there, done that"? Why do I, a 21st Century woman, find that male and female lovers are still playing roles similar to those described by the ancient ashta nayika archetypes and exhibiting similar emotions in their relationships? When an illuminating performance is based on an ashtapadi from Jayadeva's (born c. 1170) Gita Govinda or poetry in Keshavdas' (1555-1617) Rasikapriya , the eternal truth of the archetypes shines through.

I think that my discomfort with some current ashta nayika depictions reflects the disjoint between fundamental human emotions and the out-dated situations in many dramatizations. Human emotions - actions and reactions - attractions and repulsions - are deeply rooted. They are part of our DNA and our cultural histories. We don't need to be "liberated" from our emotions. We need to update the dramatizations of our human emotions, so that they more realistically reflect our modern reality.

The Kathak Ensemble's 2013 production PREMIKA: Women in Love reframed the concept of ashta nayika. Dressed in modern clothing, the actor Priyanka Nishar introduced each episode. Speaking aloud, as if the audience could listen to her inner thoughts, Priyanka dramatized each development in her modern romance.

The progression of situations and emotions -- rather than a checklist of the eight nayikas -- dictated the choice of music and choreography. Some of the songs were chosen from popular Bollywood movies, some from the traditional Lucknow Kathak repertoire. All were re-recorded by a single ensemble of musicians, allowing for a balanced sound and a unified narrative voice.

Vocal: Vidushi Mitali Banerjee Bhawmik - Sarangi: Pandit Ramesh Misra - Tabla: Narendra Budhkar - Sitar: Indrajit Roy-Chowdhury - Bansuri: Eric Fraser - Vocal support: Manoj Govindraj

Love .... Love .... Lover & Beloved - Premi and Premika .... But what is LOVE?
And how does it grow and change ......?
From a dream -- to a feeling -- to a passion -- to a longing -- to betrayal --
to loneliness -- To acceptance.
Ah the many shades of love. Haven't we all lived through them? I certainly can relate...

Music & Lyrics
Rubai Sargam - Raag Malkauns - Mukt chand & Teentaal
In the gathering the divine beloved sits in such an enticing style
Not a word is uttered, but her eyes speak volumes
As she steps, everything brightens and the fragrance of flowers pours forth
The breeze dances in her honor

When she raises her eyes, it is as if praying
When her eyes lower, she shows modesty
Her smoldering gaze creates a style of its own
When she turns away, my death sentence is spoke.

Sowmya Viswanath - Neha Kulkarni - Rashi Verma - Anisha Muni
Sowmya Viswanath - Neha Kulkarni - Rashi Verma - Anisha Muni Photo © Ira Landgarten

I've been dreaming about falling in love. And I've been looking for love.
I've looked for my tall dark handsome MrPerfect online and in person
Is he someone I already know, or a stranger?
And what does love look like anyway? Is it like these romances in celebrity magazines -they're so on-again-off-again. That's not what I want.
Will I know when I find him - my tall dark handsome Mr Perfect? Because I'm looking.
My tall dark handsome Mr Perfect.

Music & Lyrics
Saanware aai jaiyo - Please come beloved dark one.... Raag Maanj Khamaaj ; Keherwa taal
This thumri is attributed to Dr.VasantRao Deshpande and popularized by many classical singers, including Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Dr. Prabha Atre. Dr. Atre notes that this song may have roots in folk songs of Madhya Pradesh.
In the 1996 Bollywood film YESHWANT, the music and lyrics of the song are attributed to A R Rehman.
Refrain: Please come, dark-skinned beloved - Please come, playing your flute - Please come, slowly

My village is on the banks of the Jamuna River
My lofty mansion is on the banks of the river
I'm a young girl from the land of Braj
My name is flrtatious Radha.

I will fetch water and bathe you.
I will make a sandalwood paste and give you a tilak of it (tika / tilak - foreheard dot)
I will worship you thus day and night.
Hearing your flute, I am possessed [with divine madness]
I have lost my peace of mind. I meditate on your name.
Please come - playing your flute.

Priyanka Nishar
Priyanka Nishar - "I've been looking for love .... " Photo © Ira Landgarten

I met someone special - my Premi - my beloved.
I like him..... I really... well, maybe I like him ...
I want to be with you all the time... but hey, not this much.
Come here- let's be together. Oh gosh, this is too fast. WOW! I need space.
I need to think. I want to talk to my mother. I'm going to go home... to my mother's home - to my maika.

Music & Lyrics
Jaane de maika suno sajanawa Let me go to my mother's house
Raag shahana kanada - Teentaal
Poetry-Bindadin Maharaj
Music- Bindadin Maharaj & Pt. Birju Maharaj
Refrain: Listen, beloved - Let me go to my mother's house.

Why are you always quarreling with me?
You never heed me.
You tease me and don't listen
You forcibly grab my wrist, oh beloved
Poet Bindadin, what can I do? Daily he quarrels with me and doesn't listen ...
Let me go to my mother's house.

Anisha Muni
Anisha Muni, "You are always quarreling with me & don't listen.." Photo © Ira Landgarten

Anisha Muni
"My beautiful bangles" Photo © Ira Landgarten
Tell me again how much you love me. I just want to hear your voice. Yes I will always love you exactly like this. Yes, I know we should get some sleep. But we've only talked for an hour today. Five more minutes....Or we could FaceTime? Let me give you a reason... okay, come online.

Music & Lyrics
Aaj jaane ki zid na karo - Tonight, don't insist on leaving
Raag Yaman ; Taal Deepchandi
Music & Lyrics - Fayyaz Hashmi
Tonight, don't insist on leaving ....

Sit here close to me, just like that.
Life is trapped in time's prison but
There are a few moments that are free
By losing them, my love, we will regret this for the rest of our lives.
Only think, why would I not stop you, when your leaving is like death for me?
Swear on yourself, my love, that you will listen to this little request of mine ....
Don't' insist on leaving now ....
The ambience is so innocent, so beautiful .... Passion and beauty reign
Who knows what tomorrow will bring
Just stay this night
Don't insist on leaving now...

Rashi VermaRashi Verma
Rashi Verma, "The ambiance is so innocent, so beautiful ...passion and beauty reign" Photos © Ira Landgarten

Hey!!!! Its such a beautiful day! I was just walking by the river and wishing you were here.
Remember when we used to take all those walks together? Can't wait for you to get back to New York on Sunday! ... ..........
You'll be away ANOTHER SIX MONTHS after that?
Yes I can see how that's a good opportunity.
I miss you. We're married, but it doesn't feel like it. How long can we keep going like this?
Come back home sweetheart, its not home without you here.

Priyanka Nishar
Priyanka Nishar, "You'll be away ANOTHER six months ....?" Photo © Ira Landgarten

Music & Lyrics
Ghar nahin hamare shyam - My beloved is not home
Based on Raag Nand ; Taal Sitarkhani
Lyrics - Javed Akhtar, Music - Vanraj Bhatia

My beloved is not home
He has gone to a foreign land
Without him my home is empty

A cool spring breeze is in the air
Intoxication pervades the garden
The cruel cuckoo bird ...
Sings my beloved's name

The rainy season has come, and my heart yearns for my beloved
My body burns with passion when the clouds are shower rain
If only my dark beloved arrives and embraces me
Only then will my heart find peace.

Neha KulkniNeha Kulkni
Neha Kulkarni, "The cruel cuckoo bird ... sings my beloved's name ...." Photos © Ira Landgarten

WHERE have you BEEN ? It's ONE in the morning, and you haven't answered your phone or any of my texts.
We were supposed to meet for dinner at 7. I've been sitting at home waiting all dressed up and ready to go.
You went for DRINKS??? And you couldn't take a minute to call and tell me where you were? I don't care if its work.
WHO were you with? Was SHE there - that blonde from your team you're always working with? Was anyone else there? I don't believe you. I don't believe you. Get out. Get out of my house.

Music & Lyrics
Kahe ko mere ghar aaye ho
Raag Basant Bahar, modulating to Sohani ; Teentaal
Poetry - Bindadin Maharaj
Music - Bindadin Maharaj & Pt. Birju Maharaj
Why have you come to my house
You spent the night with my rival
Your reddened eyes show you were awake
Hey, donít fall at my feet.
Go away - go stay with THAT one
Donít tease me Shyam
Bindadin, listen - he doesnít heed my burning heartÖ

Sowmya ViswanathSowmya Viswanath
Sowmya Viswanath, "You spent the night with my rival ..." "Don't fall at my feet ..."
Photos © Ira Landgarten

He's gone. He hasn't called. He hasn't emailed. He hasn't texted. He's gone.
Will he come back? Do you think he will come back? Do I want him to come back?
I hope we haven't lost everything we had forever.
Nothing is the same anymore. I feel so hopeless and sad...

Music & Lyrics
Piya bina - Without my beloved ...
Raag Pahari ; Taal Keherwa & Bhajani
Lyrics - Majrooh Sultanpuri, Music S.D.Burman, rendered in semi-classical style by Vidushi Mitali Banerjee Bhawmik
Without my beloved, my voice [literally "little flute"] is silent
My beloved became so angry, that it seemed as if the melody got angry with my lips
And when I would sing, the song in my heart seemed false
My beloved left me ...

Rashi Verma & Sowmya Viswanath
Rashi Verma & Sowmya Viswanath, "My beloved left me ....." Photo © Ira Landgarten

We've been back in touch for a few weeks now. Its been... nice! We've had quite the journey so far through infatuation, jealousy, rage .... and our journey continues for now. He's definitely not Mr Perfect, but he's perfect for me. Maybe it's okay that it hasn't been so easy for us. Maybe we could learn how to be together. Maybe this could work after all. Maybe ......

Music & Lyrics
Alabela sajana aayo re - The beautiful beloved has come adorned
Raag Ahir Bhairav ; Teentaal
Poetry & Music - "Manarang"
The beautiful beloved has come adorned [in all her finery]
Sing the auspicious songs, make the four-cornered ceremonial square
Every day the composer Manarang feels joy [lit. Every day my heart is colored with joy]

Anisha Muni & Neha Kulkarni
Anisha Muni & Neha Kulkarni, "The beautiful beloved has come adorned......" Photo © Ira Landgarten

We've gone through a journey = my PREMIKA and I - dreaming, awakening emotions, passion, longing, betrayal, loneliness and acceptance of reality.
In a lifetime of loving, I've had thousands of desires - the kind I'd die for...
Some of my wishes were granted, but even so, I yearn for so many more ....

Music & Lyrics
Hazaaron khwahiishen - Thousands of dreams
Raag Kalavati ; TARANA in Ektaal
Poetry - Mirza Ghalib Ghalib (born in Agra 1797, died in Delhi 1869).
Music for sher composed by Vidushi Mitali Banerjee Bhawmik with Pandit Ramesh Misra
Music for tarana - Composed by Devi & Durga Lal, arranged by Narendra Budhkar
Thousands of dreams, each worth dying for...
Many of them I have realized...yet I yearn for more...

Neha Kulkarni - Anisha Muni - Janaki Patrik - Rashi Verma - Sowmya Viswanath
Neha Kulkarni - Anisha Muni - Janaki Patrik - Rashi Verma - Sowmya Viswanath
"Many dreams I have realized ...... yet I yearn for more ...." Photo © Ira Landgarten

Trained in both classical Kathak dance (Pt. Birju Maharaj, beginning 1967) and Merce Cunningham modern dance technique (1971 to 1978), Janaki Patrik has choreographed thirty full-evening productions and numerous shorter works exploring an eclectic range of poetry, mythic storytelling and music. She is the Artistic Director and Founder (1978) of The Kathak Ensemble & Friends/CARAVAN, NYC. A dedicated teacher, Janaki has trained dancers to perform an extensive repertoire of classical Kathak, as well as her new choreography. Teaching and performing in inner-city schools through Urban Gateways/Chicago and Young Audiences/New York for forty years, Janaki has embodied the power of dance and music to communicate the interconnections of all cultures.

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