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Connecting Mumbai through Spiritual Art - ALAP Utsav 2020
- Anupma Harshal
PC: Suresh Muraleedharan

April 18, 2020

Art in India has been a medium both for spiritual communication and entertainment. The Art Of Living Academy of Performing Arts, under the aegis of spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar, launched its Mumbai Kathak Division with the aim of providing holistic Kathak training as well as creating performance spaces and opportunities that help both artistes and rasikas reconnect with simpler and intimate presentations of dance. ALAP Mumbai is headed by Dr Manikantan Menon as director, Paullumi Mukherjee curating the Kathak Reference Library, Sunil Sunkara coordinating the Kathak ensemble, Gayatri Bhat in charge of Kathak training and Tejas Mehr Desai for specialized training for hearing impaired students. In 2018, they launched ALAP Utsav with the idea of having interconnected events all over Mumbai that feature dance as well as allied arts like makeup, videography, poster design, writing, elocution, etc. In its 3rd edition, ALAP Utsav collaborated with the NCPA Mumbai Dance Season to present unique events spread over February 2020.

Unique among the events was the panel discussion on the role of a library in dance education held at the Nrityadarpana-ALAP Kathak Reference Library. The keynote speaker Lata Surendra spoke about how literature or the written word transforms into a dance piece. An avid writer and orator, she showed how intricate cross rhythms in Bharatanatyam can be a perfect canvass to explore out of the box poetry. Aishwarya Harish, Bharatanrityam dancer, showed the depth of her research on 'Temples as Visual Libraries and Heritage Repositories' while Preeti Mandaar Valuskar debated over dance in context of the school curriculum. Having spent more than a decade in the field of education, Preeti has been working on incorporating dance into mainstream education. Kathak exponent Isha Kathvathe spoke about the process of applying for research fellowships in dance and shared her own journey as a Ministry of Culture Junior Fellow in Kathak.

The ALAP Utsav also showcased 'Dancing Soil' - a rendezvous between classical and folk forms where dancers performed in an ashram environment. The Art of Living Nath Gagangiri Ashram in South Mumbai, maintained through the hard work of Shibani Sachdeva, has a natural setting with the ocean, trees, gaushala and wandering peacocks making the audience feel as if they were away from the hustle of Mumbai.

Gayatri and Suhani Bhat

The morning began with a tribute to the Guru by Gayatri Bhat and her daughter Suhani Bhat. Gayatri beautifully presented the story of Ekalavya to the refrain of 'Guru om' composed by Dr. Manikantan Menon. This was followed by a vibrant Yakshagana performance by Rakshit Poojari. The 500 year old dance theatre of Karnataka was presented in a unique way by Rakshit. While the dance and vocals were traditional, the dialogue and conversations with the audience were conducted in English instead of Kannada. This ensured that the entire audience could connect with the unique story of Shoorpanakha that he presented. Laced with humour, he focused on Shoorpanakha's feelings before she approached Lord Ram and not the ensuing episode. Thus, through this perspective, the piece became a beautiful description of Lord Ram that left the audience with a positive feeling. He was supported by Jayalaxmi Devadiga on vocal, Harish Salian on maddale and Ashish Devadiga on chende.

Rakshit Poojari

Lalita Soni and students

Dancing Soil also featured folk performances from Gujarat, Manipur and Maharashtra. Lalita Soni and her students presented an original composition on Radha-Krishna raas created for them by Falguni Pathak, Mumbai's most popular exponent of Gujarati folk music. Lalita then followed this with a poignant piece on the experience of motherhood. The pung cholom of Manipur was presented by young boys trained by exponent Latasana Devi under the NCPA initiative Nrityaparichay. This unique initiative brings classical dances to Mumbai schools giving chance to a number of students to learn them in a much needed co-curricular format. The vibrant folk forms of Maharashtra like Koli dance, Shetkari dance, Abhang nritya were presented by students of the Shinde Dance Academy. Their dance reflected a dedication and sincerity that touched the audience as their age belied their training and coordination. One forgot that it was children and not professional dancers executing the piece.

Pung cholom by students of Greenlawn School

Farmer folk of Maharashtra by Shinde Dance Academy

Dancing Soil featured dynamic Kathak performances, especially a male-duo from Delhi who were specially invited for the event. Abhishek Khichi and Mayukh Bhattacharya from Asavari Pawar's Kalaashish Dance Repertory, displayed strength and stamina through the piece dedicated to Shiva. Combining aspects of both Lucknow and Jaipur styles of Kathak, they made a well matched pair. From Mumbai, the Manas Cultural Trust presented Kavitts on Krishna. Kavitt performance needs a quick change of emotions as they are set to fast rhythm and the choreography by Manisha Jeet brought out the intricate style of her guru Asha Joglekar well. Omkar Chitnis, Rohini Vij, Ashwene Vij and Sonia Paradkar presented stories of Kaliya Daman, Govardhan leela and other popular antics of Krishna. Renu Sharma presented the Kathavachan style of Kathak through her students Rageshree and Bageshree. Reminiscent of Lav-Kush, they presented stories of Ramayan.

Abhishek Khichi and Mayukh Bhattacharya

Rageshree and Bageshree

Manas Cultural Trust

A highlight of the morning was Kathak Baithak Bhaav on compositions of Bindadin Maharaj presented by Paullumi Mukherjee and Dr. Piyush Raj. The Baithak style is an initimate form of Kathak that allowes the audience to fully appreciate the various sancharis employed by the artiste. Paullumi presented a thumri "Dagar Chalat Dekho" choreographed by Late Ramadevi Lacchu Maharaj where she masterfully depicted various shades of interactions with Krishna both on the physical paths of Vrindavan and the spiritual path of life. Piyush followed with a popular lakshan geet of Kathak-Niratata Dhang, where he reminded the audience of his teacher, late Bireshwar Gautam. They were accompanied by Jayavardhan Dadhich from Delhi on vocal and Kaushik Basu from Mumbai on tabla.

Paullumi Mukherjee and Jayawardhan Dadhich

Piyush Raj in Baithak

Dancing Soil concluded with Nirguni Lavani presented by Charushila Golam and team. As the co-founder of the Lavani Mahasangh in Mumbai, Charushila has done immense research on Lavani. Though popular in its format as a chamber dance centered around erotic expression, Charushila brought to fore Lavani as it was performed in temples of Maharashtra. She also collaborated with Paullumi to present a Surdas piece which brought together Kathak and Lavani around the theme of Gopi Vastraharan. Krishna shows the gopis, how it is not the body but the soul which is the real garment.

Nirguni Lavani by Charushila Golam

Ranjana Phadke at Nrutyanaad

The ALAP Utsav continued to Badlapur where Nrutyanaad was presented by Gayatri Bhat and her students revolving around the theme of rain. Gayatri presented compositions written by her that brought to fore her prowess as a writer. Nrutyanaad also featured an elaborate solo by Ranjana Phadke that presented Shoorpanakha from the perspective of an unfulfilled love story.

Dr. Anupma Harshal is a Research Scientist in Biology and has been trained in Kathak dance by late Pandit Brijraj Mishra.

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