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Classically Cosmic 'Mahadev'
- Divya Ravi
Photos: Vipul Sangoi

February 14, 2020

Traditionally rooted in her vision and approach, Kathak dancer Ashwini Kalsekar brings to stage a strong grounding in the technicalities of the form, spiritually endowed thought process and a flair for innovative choreography. Hailing from Nasik, Ashwini's artistry attributes itself to the illustrious legacy of her gurus Rekha Nadgauda (also her mother) and Shama Bhate while her rhythmic adeptness stems from working with Pandit Suresh Talwalkar.

Now a resident of the UK, Ashwini is the Artistic Director of Kirti Kala Mandir in London. Over the last many months, Ashwini has been working on researching and developing 'Mahadev', a work entrenched in traditional Kathak, alongside young and ebullient UK-bred Kathak dancers Vidya Patel, Saloni Saraf, and Archita Kumar. In a sharing of the work at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, the dancers brought forth powerful visuals pertaining to Lord Mahadev whilst not compromising on their technical prowess and finer nuances of the form.

Without thrusting all four dancers on the audience at all times, Ashwini intelligently paved the way for two dancers - Saloni and Archita - to open the evening with a piece on 'Guru'. While one wondered if the reference was to Lord Mahadev as the ultimate guiding force, Ashwini's announcements clarified that this was an ode to 'Gurudutta' or 'Dattatreya', an embodiment of the trinity - Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara. Right from the opening freeze, there was an innate freshness about the choreography and its delineation, and this continued throughout the presentation. The oft-chanted 'Karpura Gauram Karunaavataram' found its way into the second solo segment as an abhinaya piece performed by Ashwini, serving as an invocation, an essential element in the Kathak repertoire.

Growing in pace, proficiency, and power, was the pivotal centrepiece, incorporating the lines 'Soham har dhamru bhaaje', derived from Maharashtra's Natya Geet traditions. Unique and layered choreographic patterns, intelligent usage of space and well-timed flourishes characterised this piece that seemed to be favourite of most in the audience, this writer included. A Tarana set to a time-cycle of 11 beats followed, with an attractive inclusion of stories from the life of Lord Mahadev between the pure dance sequences. Ashwini fondly reminisces hearing these stories from her devout grandmother. Bringing in yet another element of unpredictability, the concluding segment surprise featured singer Prachi Ranade taking centre stage and chanting the Mahamrutyunjay Mantra with Ashwini moving around enacting the lines. The triad of dancers interestingly placed in a corner of the stage provided a non-interfering rhythmic sheet with their footwork. Clad in apt hues of black and gold the dancers sported minimalistic pearl jewellery; a subtle reminder of the choreographer's Marathi roots. Despite the dancers training in different schools of Kathak under the tutelage of different gurus, their visible efforts in allying with each other must be lauded. If the dance and the choreography were superlative, the music was yet another highlight. Composers Amod Kukarni and Chinmay Kolhatkar of Magic Note display virtuosity in the music composition and arrangements in the recoded tracks that further enhanced the impact of the presentation.

Mentored by Anusha Subramanyam and Consultant Producer Jaivant Patel, Mahadev's journey has just begun. Before taking it to mainstream theatres in the next year, Ashwini and the team will be working on adding a few more segments and tying them all together with a story line. One is curious to see how the production will pan out while imagining the magnificence that can be brought forth when staged on the proscenium. That this work has been funded by Arts Council England is a promising note for classical dance in the UK.

Divya Ravi, labelled as a 'thinking dancer', is a promising Bharatanatyam soloist with various performances at coveted national and international festivals to her credit.

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