Kuchipudi and Kathak converge on stage  
- AR Sharma, Houston, TX 
October 11, 2007 

Sunanda's Center for Performing Arts (SPARC), Houston, presented the dance styles of artistes Vyjayanthi Kashi from Bangalore, and Uma Dogra from Mumbai, India, on the evening of September 29th at the Meenakshi Temple auditorium in Pearland. 

Uma Dogra, an established Kathak dancer, has more than three decades of performance experience and has been honored with titles such as Sangeet Kala Ratna and Pandita.  Kathak, which originated in North India, has several distinctive schools or gharanas, to which specific characteristics are attributable. Dogra, having been trained under more than one teacher, has inculcated into her dance both the emotive subtleties of the Lucknow gharana and the rhythmic assertiveness of the Jaipur gharana. She commenced her performance with an invocatory item in praise of Ganesh, the god of good beginnings. Her elaboration of Teen Taal, the rhythm cycle of sixteen beats, was replete with quicksilver tukdas that drew applause aplenty. And the vigor of her tatkar, as foot-work is called in Kathak, was impressive, particularly in the 'takit takit dhin' sequence towards the end of the piece. 

The thumri is a form of interpretive dance that elaborates poetic content. Histrionics in Kathak being singularly low-key, it takes a great deal of experience to truly convey the simultaneously spiritual and sensuous meanings encased within the lyrics. This, Dogra was able to accomplish in her delineation of Dagar Bich Kaise Chalun, in which a playful Krishna bars the way of a shy but smitten gopi. It was easy to observe that the dancer was living the part she was playing by her natural, unaffected gestures and looks. At one moment when the poet has the lady querying her beloved as to why he looks at her so intensely that she feels as if she is being assaulted by arrows, Dogra's beguiling improvisation came to the fore. Whereas most dancers would have chosen the literal route while interpreting that sentiment and shown bashful coyness, Uma Dogra's gopi chose simply to go up to Krishna and close his eyes instead. Her performance concluded with a traditional tarana in the raag Megh. 
The Kuchipudi performance of Vyjayanthi Kashi was interspersed cleverly between the Kathak offering for the evening. The stark contrasts in style were made particularly emphatic as the three items she presented were all popular exemplars from the classical repertoire of Kuchipudi. Unlike Kathak, the solo format of this dance-form from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is a relatively recent creation, as its origins lie in dance-dramas that were performed in temple spaces exclusively by men.  
The invocatory number was dedicated to Ardhanarishwara, the androgynous aspect of Shiva, depicted in sculpture and dance as a literal vertical bisection of the body, with one half representing the male and the other female. Kashi's tall form, clad in gleaming copper-sulfate silk had admirable stage presence even in the minimalist performance space sans theatrical lighting. The statuesque angahara or movement vocabulary of Kuchipudi found an enthusiastic elucidator in her, as she alternated between the confident flamboyance and sinuous delicacy of the proscenium-centric choreography. 

The Ramayana Shabdam, illustrated that dance is truly inclusive and here a myriad forms of communication can co-exist. Connoisseurs have often enjoyed artistes performing sanchari or elaborations of a single line of verse for a quarter of an hour or more, but in this case, the entire story-line of the Ramayana was presented in a matter of minutes, without missing any of the salient points of the epic. Kuchipudi's movements are frequently described as wave-like, but here was wave-like plot weaving keeping up a brisk pace from start to finish. Kashi also presented a short excerpt from the dance-drama Usha Parinayam. 

Vyjayanthi Kashi is the founder-director of Shambavi School of Dance, Bangalore, and Uma Dogra is the founder of the Sam Ved Society for Performing Arts, Mumbai. 

For more information about the presenting organization, Sunanda's Performing Arts Center, visit www.sunanda-pac.com