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Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company's 10X10 bound by a single conceptual thread
Photos: India Heritage Desk

May 20, 2018

'Have courage to dance your own dance, be informed by the immense history and geography of this great style Kathak but do not get bogged down by it,' said Aditi Mangaldas, the Kathak diva to her repertory dancers, musicians, and disciples of Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company. 'Conceptualize, choreograph and dance a production by yourselves.' All members of her company are individuals in their own right, who have continued their association with the type of training and philosophy of the company. Thus was born 10x10 which was presented in Delhi at Little Theatre Group on 10th May keeping in view the number 10, and ask the question: 'What do the numbers say to you?'

They must have brainstormed, discussed, argued, practiced while conceptualizing short pieces as was evident when the number from One started materializing before the packed house. Gauri Diwakar put in all her energy into the concept. She compared number 1 to breath. One breath followed by another breath for her became an unending prana. Giving shape to breath standing still in the beginning to slight music of ankle bells gradually growing with movements and with absolute control over breathing managed successfully to visualize number One adding up to the infinite. Dressed in a specially designed costume by Sandhya Raman with layers that swirled when she took pirouettes, Gauri suggested the sense of infinite. It was quite a challenging concept to transform into movement, testing also the response of the audience. Managing rhythm and breathing using silence to convey it, Gauri successfully conveyed her concept through dance.

Number 1

Number 2

Number 2 was conceptualized, choreographed and danced by Rashmi Uppal and Dheerendra Tiwari. They spoke about what Kal (time) meant - Kal, meaning today with memories of today or a dream of today. They danced at two separate ends, moved centre stage and in circles, entwined their arms with graceful body bends and danced to the sound of cymbals in the beginning and developed Kal as shadows of the past or Kal- meaning tomorrow, a feeling of future. Moving in circles often entwining arms, then separating, they sat on two ends of the stage and spoke, their words overlapping. The programme notes mentioned tarana as original composition of Ashwini Bhide Deshpande and for costumes of female by Rashmi Uppal and for male by Aditi. The meticulous details displayed their involvement not only while conceptualizing but working in totality before mounting it on the stage.

Three was conceptualized in musical terms as three rivers - Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati, meaning Triveni by musician Faraz Ahmed and Ashish Gangani. Costumes in black were designed by Aditi. The performers were, on vocal Faraz Ahmed, on pakhavaj Ashish Gangani and on tabla Mohit Gangani. They regaled the audience with their amazing command over singing, playing on tabla, and pakhavaj reciting padhant of mnemonic syllables filling the auditorium with the various textures of the sound. It was indeed de rigour to have musicians be a part of this game of numbers as these musicians formed a strong base for choreographic pieces. To get them inspired to display their virtuosity was an artistic ploy.

Number 3

Number 4

Four… Charavali (meaning four stanzas) was conceptualized and choreographed by Rachana Yadav and Anindita Acharjee to the poetry by Rachana Yadav, music by Faraz Ahmed and performed by Rachana Yadav, Anindita Acharjee, Tripti Guha and Diksha Tripathi. Aditi had designed the costumes in white for her earlier work Infinite Journey. Kathak uses kavits, songs in its exposition. Rachana explored the concept describing the four aspects of rising moon from crescent moon to full moon, while the Chakore bird looks mesmerized, the moon rising in the east and disappearing in the west as it were sprinkling pearls. These four phases covers the sky joyfully. Using the various walks, some lyrical gats, embellishing with seductive movements of the arms, placing them behind the neck and dancing gracefully, gliding, sometimes using one leg across while walking and taking beautiful poses, the number stood out for use of poetry through the gats and appropriate expressions. The group of four in a cluster created interesting visuals.

Five… Manoj Sonagra conceptualized it as five Elements –earth, water, fire, air and space. He was assisted in choreography by Gaurav Bhatti, Aamrapali Bhandari and Minhaz Khan. For this contemporary work based on Kathak, special mentor was Deepak K Shivaswamy who has been teaching contemporary dance at Drishtikon Foundation. The music for this work was 'Deep Blue' composed and performed by Bensound. The costumes were by Aditi which she had designed for her earlier work Now Is. This piece was quite in contrast to Charavali, visually also since dancers were dressed in grey metal colours; when the dancers walked across the stage in complete silence, it created an unusual ambience of alien like creatures. The five dancers were Manoj Sonagra, Minhaz Khan, Sunny Shishodiya, Gaurav Bhatti and Aamrapali Bhandari. They walked in opposite directions. Then to the sound of recorded music there was seen imbalance. The concept was that if any one element is taken out, the body would collapse. The dancers fall on the floor, convulse, are seen shaking, all atremble suggesting apocalypse.

Number 5

Number 6

Six… Seeing the unseen in terms of sixth sense besides the five senses which are the usual which are of common experience. Choreographed by Minhaz Khan with assistance by Aamrapali Bhandari, Manoj Sonagra and Gaurav Bhatti, and danced by six dancers Minhaz Khan, Aamrapali Bhandari, Anjana Kumari, Tripti Guha, Manoj Sonagra and Gaurav Bhatti to the music composition for the interlude by all the musicians and Dheerendra Tiwari, it had costumes designed by Aditi, originally designed for Timeless. It was a contemporary piece based on Kathak, specially mentored by Deepak K Shivaswamy and Gauri Diwakar.

It was quite unusual. A female dancer walks in with a chair and sits on it clapping on various parts of her body. Enter other five dancers and they bring along with them chairs on which they sit and start clapping, striking various parts of their bodies creating several rhythmic patterns. Many years ago, I had seen similar use of clapping and striking various parts of the body, standing, along with striking the floor with Kathak tatkar. The entire experience is also unusual. There is a certain starkness about it. We notice them sitting on chairs continuing striking on their bodies with palms and notice that Minhaz is seen in the centre posing as it were; he is sitting on a chair, but there is no chair and he continues creating rhythm striking palms on chest, arms. There is chaos. The dancers move away, Minhaz starts collecting the chairs and piles them up. They all disappear and only one female is seen holding the chair and leaving the chairs, she too disappears; then there is darkness and once again we see in light all the musicians including Rohit Prasanna on flute, Amir Khan on sarangi and Dheerendra Tiwari (padhant) in a musical interlude. The contemporary piece draws attention to the fact that Aditi's dancers are exploring space, movements and concepts in a different manner, but have a strong foundation in Kathak. I had an occasion to see Deepak K Shivaswamy at Drishtikon Studio in a Baithak program performing a contemporary piece with another female dancer. So I could understand that there is a movement to explore such elements for contemporary Kathak. It will be interesting to see in future in what directions contemporary Kathak shall move.

Seven... Suryashva was choreographed by Sunny Shishodiya, with earlier training in Kathak under Birju Maharaj. His concept of number 7 was from his inspiration of seven horses drawing the chariot of Sun God. He acknowledged the guidance he has received from Birju Maharaj. The music was composed by Sunny Shishodiya and Faraz Ahmed. The seven dancers were Sunny Shishodiya, Minhaz Khan, Anjana Kumari, Tripti Guha, Manoj Sonagra, Gaurav Bhatti and Diksha Tripathi. Costumes by Aditi were from her original Uncharted Seas. The salient feature of the piece was the journey of the seven horses of Surya from East to West showcased as a musical journey of different swaras, solfa syllables as Sur Ashvas, horses with seven notes. The Sanskrit shloka 'Saptashvarathamarudhya,' riding in a chariot driven by seven horses, was rendered in melodious musical mode, dancers enacting movements in a semi circle, of seven horses. We bow down to the Sun God holding white lotus. The use of hand gestures for Surya holding white lotus were etched clearly with visuals highlighted by excellent lighting.

Number 7

Number 8

Eight... Nirantar, the infinite. Anjana Kumari had conceptualized and choreographed mentioning that number 8 is a symbol of infinity, that which is everlasting. The London based Kathak dancer Aakash Odedra, she quotes: 'It has no beginning, no end, it is nothing yet it is everything. It is one breath yet no breath –everything is there and in between is infinity.' She also acknowledged the inspiration from Kathak Guru Rajendra Gangani. The music was composed by Anjana Kumari, Faraz Ahmed and Ashish Gangani. Aditi's costumes from her earlier work for Infinite Journey were used for this production. The eight dancers were Anjana Kumari, Aamrapali Bhandari, Diksha Tripathi, Tripti Guha, Minhaz Khan, Manoj Sonagra, Sunny Shishodiya and Gaurav Bhatti. Kathak as a dance form uses pirouettes in various ways and for various purposes. To convey the idea of infinity, Anjana Kumari in her choreography has made use of chakkars across the stage by one principal dancer and others also move in circles. It does create a sense of infinity, endless movements. The theme bound Anjana Kumari to use it as that was the best way to convey that feeling of number 8. The seasoned dancers moved effortlessly highlighting the virtuosity elements of all dancers.

Nine…Nau conceptualized and choreographed by Gauri Diwakar explored the meaning of Nau, as fresh, from Urdu word Nau to suggest Nau-ba-Nau. The other term Nau-khej means newly risen or adolescent. Using this concept, Gauri wove an enchanting web of dance with nine dancers. Along with her, other eight were Minhaz Khan, Anjana Kumari, Aamrapali Bhandari, Sunny Shishodiya, Manoj Sonagra, Tripti Guha, Diksha Tripathi and Gaurav Bhatti. For female dancers, Gauri Diwakar chose pink colour costumes and for male Aditi devised the costumes originally designed for her work Rhythm and Sound. The text was from Kalidasa's Ritu Samhara. The spirit of freshness, adolescent youth permeated the movements of Kathak using various intra forms, pirouettes in Gauri's choreography. A very imaginative use of nine matras was made to enhance Nau number, also the favourite of dancers, Ginati. Dancers reciting one two three four and so on showing with their hand gestures the numbers and dancing in breathless padhant managing to come on sam. Sheer delight of mathematical permutations and combinations. The rendering of the shloka welcoming spring season and the beloved, enhanced by pink colour costumes created interesting visual.

Number 9

Number 10

Ten...Dashavatara in contemporary based on Kathak, choreographed by Gaurav Bhatti with special mentoring by Deepak K Shivaswamy and Saatvik. Recorded music by Hiren Chate is sung by Eva Brandt. For female dancers, costumes were by Aditi from her earlier production Changing Landscapes and for male dancers by Gaurav Bhatti. Before the dancers appear on the scene the well known shloka from Gita is recited, 'Yada yada hi dharmasya,' known to all indicating that with the passing of the eons, when there is complete chaos, the lord will appear to save the world. We see Gauri sitting on stage near microphone, removing her ankle bells and speak about the past, present and how history takes place.

What engaged attention of the audience was to see how in contemporary Kathak the story of Dashavatara will take place. Dressed in black costumes the ten dancers appeared performing movements in group. There was no immediate attempt to follow the familiar 'Pralayapayodhi jale' sequence from the Gita Govinda but it was inevitable to see the movements by waving of the arms to suggest waves of ocean and the water creatures like fish moving gracefully with hand gestures from the surface to the depth of the ocean. It was ingenious on part of Gaurav Bhatti to visualize the incarnations suggestively. The dancers crawling on the floor raising their index fingers and raising their heads upon which Prithvi, the earth was to be rescued. Even when there did not appear clarity of sequential order, the Narasimha avatara with a dancer spreading his nails moved around crowd. Minhaz Khan, tall and imposing, moved imperiously and suggested Vamana, dwarf incarnation. Several dancers were seen holding plough, and with axe raising arms and killing kshatriyas. Dheerendra Tiwari enacting holding flute, crossed the stage as other dancers were seen forming a line. From various movements from behind a cluster of dancers, one saw dancers seated in Buddhavatara pose. Finally Gauri came dressed in black for Kalki avatara. There were fights with the dancers knocked down on stage. She moved as Kalki, raising each dancer who looked upwards. Suggestively number 10 was performed with a ploy of Dashavatara. Gaurav pulled it off with considerable success.

Lighting was by Govind Singh Yadav and sound by Yogesh Dhawan, with Aditi herself responsible for the concept, curating and mentoring of all the pieces. The audience gave a rousing ovation for such innovative and splendid team work. On the current Kathak dance scene doubtless Aditi has created her own niche with her choreographic works receiving critical acclaim within India and abroad. But for inspiring members of her repertory to create their own choreographies and perform, one has to compliment her. Her own growth under her gurus Kumudini Lakhia and Birju Maharaj is evident and as Kumudini let her fly and create, she has been following her tradition. Everything was professional. From the programme notes to the presentation it spoke volumes for Aditi's customary finesse and generosity.

The profile of the audience has changed. The crowd that had bought tickets was of new generation, young and supportive of the work. For achieving this also Aditi deserves all praise.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic, Padma Shri awardee and fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi. Dance Critics' Association, New York, has honoured him with Lifetime Achievement award.

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