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Pali Chandra brings the Lucknowi Andaaz to Aamchi Mumbai
- Simran Khurana
Photos: Anu Clix

February 7, 2020

When Lucknow's famous Kathak dance guru, performer, and choreographer Pali Chandra came visiting to a studio at Goregaon, in the heart of suburban Mumbai, fans flocked in numbers. As a part of the NCPA Mumbai Dance Season initiative, Pali Chandra arrived at Natanam Studio for Performing Arts, Mumbai, for a lecture demonstration titled "Raaz-E-Adaakari" to share her experiences of Lucknow Gharana of Kathak.

Pali Chandra, the daughter of Lucknow, is now a resident of Switzerland. Though she lives closer to the Alps, she has not lost touch with her Indian culture. On the contrary, she has dug deeper into her roots via her academy, Gurukul Dubai and Gurukul Switzerland. Pali Chandra is not just a dancer par excellence; she is also a dynamic orator and teacher. Having trained under maestros such as gurus Vikram Singhe, Kapila Raj and Ram Mohan Maharaj, Pali Chandra brought Kathak to the world map through her dance performances, lectures, vlogs, seminars, webinars, and what have you. In today's generation of Lucknow Gharana Kathak dancers and teachers, she is considered one of the foremost revolutionary thought leaders.

What makes Pali Chandra different from her contemporaries is that she does not shy away from technology. She is one of the earliest dancers who embraced the digital platform and harnessed it to reach out her knowledge to students around the world. Today, Pali Chandra's YouTube tutorials on Kathak are one of the most acclaimed vlogs in the Indian classical dance space.

Dr. Piyush Raj, Founder-Director of Natanam Studio for Performing Arts spearheading the initiative 'Raaz-e-Adaakari' on behalf of NCPA Mumbai Dance Season, says, "In today's Kathak, very few people are showcasing the nuances and the so called nazaakat of the Lucknow gharana of Kathak, the so called Lucknowi andaaz. Today it's all about speed and people are unaware about the "theraav" that is a very integral part of a Kathak dance repertoire, especially of Lucknow gharana." And as the evening unfolded, Dr. Piyush's words hit home. It was quite evident from the interactions that most of the younger generation dancers were not familiar with Lucknow Gharana's obsession with elegant, slow, and detailed movements.

Pali Chandra opened the session by taking us into the forgotten by-lanes of Lucknow, where time could wait, but a beautiful performance couldn't. Evenings languorously rolled into dawn, but the indulgent audience could not be bothered to retire for the night. The delicate movements of the swirling dancers, swaying to a slow, melodious number enthralled the connoisseurs of Lucknow. 'Theraav', a unique stylization in Kathak where the dancers make deliberate and measured movements, is often presented on a vilambit laya (slow meter) taal.

Pali Chandra talked about how dance styles evolved in different parts of India, because of the impact of geographical, historical and the ecological aspects of a place. For instance, she said, "The Jaipur gharana of Kathak is known for its faster tempo in dance, where the Kathak dancer would perform extremely difficult steps on complicated compositions. Also, their dance style exuded strength, power, and zeal. To understand this, one needs to look at Jaipur's geography and history. The people of Jaipur deal with harsh climatic conditions, repeated foreign invasions and battles. The dances of Jaipur thus bear an imprint of this ethos. Kathak dancers were attuned to demonstrate victory, and power through their dances. Kathak was developed to showcase speed, complicated movements, chakkars, and intense footwork."

"On the other hand, Lucknow enjoyed the attention of self-indulgent Nawabs and royals, who lived in Lucknow. Everything in Lucknow was about class and sophistication. Right from the choice of attire, to the taste in music and dance, everything was carefully honed to perfection. The Lucknow gharana of Kathak reflects this attitude in its dance. This is why the Lucknow dancers are cultured and stay away from risqué performances."

The lecture demonstration included some nuanced dance presentation such as the various interpretations of a Thumri. Pali Chandra mesmerized her audience with her interpretations on "Kanha main tose haari," a famous Thumri written by Bindadin Maharaj and sung by Pt Birju Maharaj. Her demonstration on the Nayika Bhed, where she showed how expressions and treatment to the song could change based on the Nayika was simply stunning. It was a treat to watch how she adroitly moved from one bhaava to another, as if it were as simple as blinking! Truly, the mark of a seasoned performer.

In Piyush Raj's words, "Besides being a graceful and a well-informed dancer, Pali Chandra has also adapted her teaching techniques to make it more palatable and amenable to the so-called digital younger generation. Her way of explaining things with great detail makes it easy for people to understand and appreciate the nuances and essence of Kathak." I couldn't agree more. I was struck by Pali Chandra's attention to detail. Not just was she detailed in her Kathak, she was also very articulate. She did not rush through her answers. She was contemplative, often drawing in the audience into her musings.

As elegant and graceful a dancer, Pali Chandra is as mellifluous a speaker. Her clarity of thought, command on the subject and remarkable oratory skills left the audience wanting for more. After the lecture, the questions flowed. Some wanted to know more about different dance styles; others wanted to know what kind of jobs and careers are available to dancers. She answered each question with empathy, sharing all that she knew, while candidly admitting that there is a lot she didn't know. Later, on being asked to comment about the Mumbai crowd and her experience with Mumbai students, Pali Chandra said, "They are enthusiastic, ardent, passionate and demanding audiences who if given a choice would love to live only in art. I was empowered while replying to their educated questions."

While the Q & As continued, I turned around to look across the room at the people gathered. I noticed a spark in the eyes of the attendees. It was a spark of inspiration. A spark of hope. A spark of admiration. Pali Chandra had not just ignited minds; she inspired dancers to become artistes, and viewers to become connoisseurs. That evening, Lucknow had conquered Mumbai.

Simran Khurana is a Kathak dancer, and researcher, with over two decades of writing experience, having worked with national and international publications. An avid music and dance lover, Simran aims to bring about a synergy between her profession and passion.

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