Kathak – a continent away!  
by Manjari Sinha, Gurgaon  
e-mail: manjari@sinha.com 

August 2, 2003 

In a Kathak solo performance; the dancer first recites the rhythmic composition of the dance. The tabla player’s role is to recreate the composition while the dancer dances. What makes this onstage interaction typical is that it is unrehearsed. While both the dancer and the tabla player have knowledge of the basic rhythmic time cycle and structure of the dance form, the performance is not pre- arranged. 

Given the spontaneous and improvisational nature of Kathak, the quality of performance is high when the artists are gifted and experienced. They are aware of each other’s strengths and compliment each other. Without any rehearsals there is a risk that the performers will not have the kind of onstage chemistry that makes a great artistic collaboration. They either have it or they don’t. Pt Birju Maharaj and Zakir Husain have it. They click instantly creating magic and sharing their artistic passion together. 

The Tarangini School of Kathak of the San Francisco bay area in the US, presented a ‘magical evening of Kathak’ at the Palace of Performing Arts, San Francisco this summer, with none other than the magical duo of Pt. Birju Maharaj and Zakir Hussain. 
The magnificent architecture and sculpture of the Palace of Performing Arts impresses you before you enter the grandeur of the inside arena and the big hall which was sold out days before the event. The appreciative audience, comprising of connoisseurs from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan to the discerning music lovers, inspired both the artists to give their best. 

The fireworks of the crystal clear footwork of Birju Maharaj ignited the spontaneous flourishes of Zakir’s crisp reciprocal tabla bols. The ginti ki tihaies, aamad, uthaan, tora tukra parans, the chakkakdaar pirouettes, gatbhavs leading to the thumri composition of Bindadeen Maharaj and the Jait taal of thirteen beat cycle, every thing that Pt Birju Maharaj danced, Zakir photo framed each and every nuance with his own brilliance by accompanying Birju Marahraj on the tabla. 

The various ways of coming on sam was depicted like a play of hide and seek between Krishna and Raadha, where the maatras of the taal were gopis and Raadha running behind to catch Krishna, the sam. The tisra jaati ladi was like the gait of a young playful naayika. The sounds of birds in a parmelu, the tukra played on the left dagga and danced only by the left foot, the mala paran where Birju Maharaj would catch the sam after Zaakir’s tihaai and vice versa and the flying uthaan of udaan were all exquisite. 

The gatbhaav carried five different ways of ghoonghat - the naayika’s veil. The mayoor gata picturised the dance of a peacock in the rainy season. The bandish ki thumari in raag Pilu composed by Bindadeen Maharaj ‘kaahe karun….’ went with lilting and off-beat rhythm conveying the chhedchhaad of Raadha Krishna. 

The multi-faceted brilliance of Birju Maharaj was presented this evening, not only as a dancer but also as a singer, composer, as an exceptional percussionist, a Guru, a versatile choreographer and a gifted creator during the jugalbandi with Zakir. 

Apart from the solo, his group choreography was represented in a dance sequence from the film Devdas, a Bindadeen thumri ‘kaahe chhedo…’ and another piece titled ‘Loha’, the story of a piece of iron, where Deepak played Loha with a few of his other students, including some from the Tarangini School of Kathak, US, run by Anuradha Nag. 

Anuradha Nag herself is a senior disciple of Birju aMaharaj who teaches this fascinating style of Indian classical dance to many Indian and foreign students who aspire to learn Kathak. It was heartening to watch her students equalling Birju Maharaj’s own students from India. Kudos to Anuradha Nag for organizing such a magnificent, magical evening of Kathak, in San Francisco. This concert was followed by a two day workshop by Birju Maharaj organized by Anuradha for the students of Tarangini.  

In the past, Birju Maharaj and Zakir performed only in the south and east bays where there are large Indo-American communities. Performing in San Francisco gave Maharaj more exposure to people outside as well as within the Indian community. Zakir also enjoyed himself. Commenting on the programme he said ‘When the two of us get together and create on the spot, it is a fabulous challenge, because I don’t know what he will do next.  It is a kind of game I look forward to.'

Manjari Sinha has an MA in Sanskrit from Allahabad University, MA in Music from Vikram University, Ujjain; B.Ed. from Lucknow University; Sangeet Prabhakar in vocal, tabla, sitar and Kathak dance from Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad; and further training in sitar from guru Arvind Parikh in the lineage of Ustad Vilayat Khan. She contributes articles in English and Hindi on Music (Hindustani & Carnatic), Dance, Art & Culture for various leading music journals and periodicals. She gives lec-dems on Indian classical music and dance in India and abroad.