Taal: life rhythms  
- Mary Hope Schwoebel 
e-mail: Amamhs@aol.com 

September 29, 2005 

I saw a splendid production that was part of the Indian Dance Educator's Association's (IDEA) spectacular event the weekend of September 3 and 4 at Arlington, Virginia.  I feel it has not received the attention that it merits, sandwiched as it was, between an emotional panel discussion, a performance of rarely seen Manipuri dance, and a spectacular, albeit not traditional, performance by guest dancers from India. The production was a Kathak ballet entitled "Taal: Life Rhythms" and it was produced and choreographed by Asha Vattikutti, a co-president of IDEA and one of the DC area's best known and most loved Kathak dancers and teachers. 

The production, which lasted one hour, presented the human life cycle through music and dance, and included nine segments: a mother rocking her infant, a mother caring for a toddler, childhood, adolescence, youth, young lovers, middle age, old age, and ending with all the dancers on the stage for the final segment representing a celebration of life. While all the dancers were impressive, Parvi Bhatt's gentle dances as the tender mother and Shreekant Vattikuti's virile dance as the young lover, were especially memorable. The production was greatly enhanced by the performances of the live musicians, residents of Washington area, excepting the tabla player, Samrat Kakkeri. The music was comprised of a variety of rhythms or taals, suitable for the stage of life being depicted. 

Two specific aspects of the production made it remarkable. The first was that while the structure of the presentation was innovative, the content was the traditional Kathak that we know and love. Innovative productions so often do the opposite, with the structure reflecting the traditional stories or technical pieces, but the content involving a fusion of modern dance styles and traditional dance styles, which often - but not always - results in diluted versions of both. Yet, these dancers, most of whom have 'day jobs' and many of whom have not benefited from instruction in India, presented a proficient performance of Kathak dance. At the same time, the innovative structure enabled the performers to engage audience members who were unschooled in Indian dance. 

The second unique aspect of this production was that the choreography allowed the individual styles of the dancers to shine. Kathak traditionally involved a significant amount of improvisation and was focused more on the solo dancer and his or her communication with the musicians than on large groups of precision dancers. For this production, as in previous ones, Asha Vattikutti brought together a handful of her best students and some of the best Kathak dancers and teachers in the DC area. Her choreography was well suited to this collection of dancers, because while the dancers were all performing the same movements, their individual styles were apparent, which was both educational for members of the audience who know little about Kathak dance, and aesthetically interesting for all. 

The performance was slightly marred by logistical difficulties related to the facility and the mechanical side of the production, but its effect was more on the equanimity of the dancers than on the audience's enjoyment. We greatly look forward to see what this talented and creative choreographer is going to come up with next!!