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Women Speak
- Prof. Pratik Kumar Mahant
Photos: Narendra Dangia

February 21, 2024

On January 25, 2024, NCPA Mumbai invited Shila Mehta and Maya Sapera Dance Company to showcase Kathak as well as Rajasthani folk dance in celebration of the Lok Gatha festival.

As I went through the lanes near Nariman Point in the evening, my mood was already elevated for a heart touching experience. We had gathered to witness 'Women Speak', a Kathak production celebrating womanhood, conceptualized by Shila Mehta and choreographed by Shila Mehta and Maya Sapera. That night was the Indian premiere of the production, after a series of successful performances in Belgium, Europe. I could imagine it might have been a matter of excitement and nervousness for the artistes as well, performing in the land where Kathak was born, accepted with a warm heart, and disseminated to the world with great pride.

Lok Gatha festival - Shila Mehta
Shila Mehta

The evening started with a warm-up Rajasthani dance performance choreographed by Maya Sapera and performed by her troupe from Belgium. Their performance familiarized the audience with the dancers' skills and expressions, setting the tone for the upcoming performance. Many of the artistes were from Belgium, who had learned the intricacies of Kalbeliya, Terah Thaali, and Ghoomar from Maya Sapera. The warm-up was concluded by a Rajasthani music recital by Mahabub Khan, Arvind Khan, and Arvind Pandey, enthralling us with back-to-back two singing performances filled with Rajasthani tunes, texture, and linguistic beauty.

Lok Gatha festival

Following that, the main show of the evening, 'Women Speak, inspired by Mahasati,' began. The journey shown through the dance movements started with silence, symbolizing the purity and innocence of human existence. The dancers skillfully transitioned from silence to sound, capturing the essence of rhythm and music. This gradual evolution mirrored the unfolding of emotions and experiences in life, carrying the audience on a deeply introspective journey. Drawing inspiration from Jain literature and the life of Mahasati Chandanbala, the performance delved into the intricacies of human emotions, transcending language and words.

Lok Gatha festival - Maya Sapera
Lok Gatha festival
Maya Sapera

Each dance piece embodied a different facet of the emotional spectrum, from the exuberance of joy to the melancholy of sadness, from the intensity of love to the turmoil of inner conflict. The story of Mahasati Chandanbala resonated through the different scenes, and the choreography ingeniously personified the emotions that underlay her story, portraying them as dynamic characters on stage. Through expressive movements, intricate footwork, and graceful gestures, the dancers brought to life the complexities of human relationships and the eternal quest for inner harmony. The costume and lighting done for the performance need a special mention here. Natyashastra mentions aharya as one of the most important pillars of any performance. The light design by Sushant P. Jadhav and costumes by Sandhya Raman definitely elevated the performance.

The success of any performance depends on whether it transcends the boundaries of language and culture, providing a heartfelt experience to each connoisseur. 'Women Speak' did exactly this, and did it so beautifully that the audience immersed themselves in the performance for two hours with immense devotion for the art. One of the most compelling aspects of the performance was its exploration of the societal expectations and gender dynamics that shape our experiences. Through powerful storytelling and evocative imagery, the dancers depicted the struggles and triumphs of women navigating through a world filled with contradictions and complexities. The performance left the audience with a promise where literature, culture, and movement merged to deliver another captivating, enriching, and joyful experience.

Lok Gatha festival

Produced by Nupur Zankar and Maya Sapera Dance Company, other credits include: Dramaturgy - Lisi Estaras, Coach - Koen Augustijnen, Sound - Aishwari Joshi, Aditi Deepak. Dancers were Shila Mehta, Maya Sapera, Mansi Somaiya, Sumana Sachidananda, Krutika Sawant, Yuka Numao, Lies Heylbroeck, Aaricia Ponnet, Amber Bosteels, Yamuna Huygen, Shanti Nsay De Bruyne, Zaara Khan, Sreeja Sahu, Hannia De Waele, Yewo Verbeken.

Pratik Kumar Mahant
Pratik Kumar Mahant is an Assistant Professor of Communication at NMIMS, Mumbai. He co-leads a research project on 'Magahi Folk Culture' funded by IIT Indore and has published papers in Scopus and Web of Science indexed journals. Additionally, he is active in directing, acting, and writing for both stage and short films.

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