Taal Shringar
- Divya Kasturi
e-mail: divyakasturi@yahoo.com

 June 16, 2009 

The article is reproduced here, courtesy: 'Confluence: magazine of South Asian perspectives.'

'Taal Shringar' was an evening dedicated to explore the beautiful trajectories of rhythmic time cycles expressed through music, vocal and body movements. It was a confluence of not just music and dance but of artistes belonging to different artistic traditions and generations on display at the Queen Elizabeth hall on the 30th of April 2009. The evening, organized to mark the ninth anniversary of  Alla Rakha Foundation established in the memory of Ustad Alla Rakha Khan (1919-2000), a doyen of rhythm and one of the greatest tabla players of the 20th century, featured a line up of glittering names from the art fraternity panning both India and the UK. 

The show had an interesting array of presentations by two houses (gharanas) of Kathak - the Lucknow style presented by UK's well known dancer, choreographer and teacher Gauri Sharma Tripathi, while the Jaipur tradition was represented by one of India's senior most exponents Uma Dogra from Mumbai. The percussive arrangement had in its lead, two highly talented and successful disciples of Abbaji (Ustad Alla Rakha Khan was affectionately referred so by his students) representing the Punjab gharana -Taufiq Qureshi, his own son and  Yogesh Samsi; while, UK's popular tabla player Sanju Sahai represented the Banaras tradition. Surjeet Singh on the sarangi and Fida Hussain on the harmonium provided skilful support serving as a backbone for the whole team of performers.

The dance performance can be labeled as a display of three generations of artistic tradition transmitted not just in local domains but across international borders. Padma Sharma of Mumbai, who herself is a direct disciple of the illustrious Kathak  guru Lachchu Maharaj and Kalyan Rao Purkar led the team for her daughter and disciple Gauri Sharma Tripathi's presentation. The invocation had an ensemble of UK's young and vibrant students of Tripathi perform a piece on lord Ganesh to a melodious contemporary recording of Taufiq Qureshi. Uma Dogra had her able student Sarita to assist her on rhythmic recitations thereby threading the lineage of tradition.

Gauri Sharma Tripathi is no stranger to the South Bank Centre. Currently the artist in residence, she has to her credit many new and innovative productions. An electrifying stage presence with an aesthetically designed costume of a long black skirt with a bright red layering in the flare gave an advantageous edge to her confidence and refinement in presentation. Choosing the all time favourite sixteen beat time cycle, Tripathi started off with the conventional thaat sequence of punctuating the first beat of the time cycle and then moving on to more intricate movement sequences (utaan-s, paran, ahmad, tukras and tihais) showcasing glimpses of time tested compositions of different Kathak exponents, spicing it up with her own flavour, thereby proving the dance form's inherent fluidity for experimentation within conventional structures. Padma Sharma's padhant (recitation of the syllables) was particularly striking in the kavit (poetic words uttered in a dialogic manner with rhythm) sections. There were some interesting modulations perceptible when the mother and daughter duo recited few phrases together incorporating different octaves of delivery.

Uma Dogra, a disciple of Kathak maestro Pandit Durgalal, who was known for his razor sharp movement vocabulary, footwork and pirouettes, did justice to her legacy of the Jaipur style. She handled the challenging and strong rhythm pattern of damaar (fourteen beat time cycle). Competently assisted by Yogesh Samsi on the tabla, Dogra began with a touch of nostalgia explaining that it was the same stage where her guru had given his final performance. She performed certain exciting pieces of her guru, especially a beautiful composition that had alternating rhythm patterns of three's and four's resulting in what was a treat to both the eyes and the ears. Dogra then went on to present her own tihais improvising within the time cycle and exhibiting utmost sensitivity in her calculations, while simultaneously treading on complicated rhythmic structures therein. The rhythmic virtuosity in her footwork was intelligently accentuated by Samsi's skilful accompaniment to some of the patterns that were created impromptu.

In terms of exploring the beauty of rhythm, both the dancers chose not just to express it in terms of pure movements but also through mimetic segments foregrounding the musicality interweaved in it. While Tripathi portrayed it by enacting a mythological story to a lengthy kavit, Dogra performed to a recording of a tumri ('dagaru…'), aptly interspersing it with contemporary poetry linking in with certain words of the song. Tripathi has to be credited for her clever usage of costume in certain flashes to bring out expressions of fury and anger. Her visualisation of the whole episode of Daksha Yagna complementing the rhythmic recitation (a lenghty kavit composed by Lachchu Maharaj) was commendable. Dogra's vivid portrayal of the heroine's longing-ness for Lord Krishna exhibited her maturity in handling abhinaya and the juxtaposing of the verses, which helped in effecting the inner voice of the character, proved gratifying.

Kathak has a certain amount of informality that allows for complete freedom for the artiste in terms of attempting unusual experimentations. This was particularly exploited by both the Kathak performers of the evening who attempted to collaborate with non Indian instruments such as the drums and the djembe. Wielding his dexterous hands on these instruments was Taufiq Qureshi. Qureshi teamed up with each of the Kathak dancers and tried to reproduce the dance syllables in the djembe as well as the drums. As a torch bearer of his dad's tradition and reputation, Qureshi demonstrated a variety of talents in one evening. His capacity at composing music, performing a range of percussive instruments and most interestingly, his creative idea of playing with breathing was all brought to limelight on the same stage. His novel concept of producing different rhythm grooves through breathing sounds needs specific mention, warranting credits to his innovative creativity. Adding a touch of humour, Qureshi's delivery of vocal percussion to an imaginative conversation between himself and an airport official was  enjoyable. Displaying his rhythmic wizardry, Qureshi ventured on a seventeen beat time cycle performing some of his dad's compositions on the djembe and subsequently embarking on to improvisations in the teen taal (sixteen beat time cycle). With a life size imposing picture of Abbaji at the backdrop, Qureshi dedicated the positives of his performance to his dad while shouldering all others unto his own self.

There was a lot of nostalgia associated with the evening's performance and each of the artistes expressed it in their own terms, eventually leading the audience to experience the performance of artistes who performed their experiences. Taal Shringar concluded with a finale wherein Dogra, Tripathi, Qureshi and Samsi settled in to display a relay of  rhythmic phrases in each of their own language and style as a result, symbolizing unity of embodied  artistic traditions. The piece thus culminated as a celebration of rhythm, echoing the theme of the show.

Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancer Divya Kasturi divides her dancing career between UK and India. She is pursuing a master's program in South Asian dance studies at Roehampton University, London. Divya is also proficient in Carnatic music with a musical career spanning different genres such as light music, film music, singing for albums and jingles. She has sung for renowned musicians Ilayaraja, Sir Paul McCartney and Nitin Sawhney. Divya is also experienced in the field of television anchoring, news reading and program conceptualising. She was the director and presenter of a television series on teaching Bharatanayam to kids that was telecast in India. Her recent foray into British theatre made her a part of the award winning and world touring play titled 'A Disappearing Number' that was based on the Indian mathematician S Ramanujam, directed by Simon McBurney.