From the effects of technology on contemporary Kathak training and performance to shifts in the traditional mentor-disciple relationship, Kathak pioneer Kumudini Lakhia examined a number of emerging challenges faced by the classical dance form at a lecture here on Friday.
“Modern day Kathak seems to be more about skill than art. Today, Kathak is more competitive than ever before and there is also the increasing tendency of bringing the classroom to the stage by its practitioners,” said Lakhia, a Padma Bhushan awardee who established and continues to run the Kadamb Dance Centre in Ahmedabad – widely regarded as an outstanding training institution of classical dance choreography.
Over the course of an engaging and candid discussion, titled ‘Kathak in Our Times’, in the presence of her illustrious students, critics and fans at the India Habitat Centre, the Kathak doyenne observed how the teaching of Kathak needs an overhaul in institutions, universities and classrooms.
“Scant attention is paid to costumes and practitioners lack basic aesthetics. Absence of abhinaya (the art of expression) is another major area of concern,” she said.
“The biggest difficulty for Kathak dancers today lies in teaching. Rather than focusing on the body language of students, teachers start adhering to curriculum right at the onset. The guru-shishya parampara (the mentor-disciple relationship) has changed. The student-teacher ratio too has moved from 1:1 to 30:1,” she said, adding that along with the existing Jaipur, Lucknow and Benares Gharanas, there now seems to be a fast-emerging “YouTube Gharana” in the world of contemporary Kathak.
The two-hour address was the latest in the annual Kelucharan Mohapatra Memorial lecture series, which aims to air concerns relating to Indian dance. It is conducted as tribute to Padma Vibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, one of the most important and influential exponents of Odissi who is credited with reviving the classical dance form in the 20th century.
The well-received lecture series is organised by the Raza Foundation – set up by the late master modern artist Sayed Haider Raza in 2001 and helmed by eminent Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi, the Managing Trustee.
Acknowledging the power of Kathak’s poetry, Vajpeyi said, “Just as the dance form should not entirely lean on stories, it shouldn’t also bank on poems from extraneous sources. Instead, it can make potent use of its own poetry.”
Noting that dance is only the realm of fine arts that can boastof a bold, functional streak with “every other artistic discipline struggling with questions of mediocrity and hopelessness”, he added, “Our aim at the Raza Foundation is to keep these embers of disquiet burning.”
The talk was the latest in a clutch of eight memorial lectur
es organised yearly by the Foundation at the India Habitat Centre. The invariably thought-provoking talks are dedicated to Kumar Gandharva, Habib Tanvir, Mani Kaul, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Agyeya, Daya Krishna, V.S Gaitonde and Charles Correa.
Over the years, the lectures have been delivered by a number of important thought leaders and notable personalities, including Mukund Lath, Sadanand Menon, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Hiren Gohain, Sitanshu Yashashchandra, Kumar Shahani, Dilip Padgaonkar, Padma Subramanyam, among others.
While Neelam Mansingh presented this year’s Habib Tanvir Memorial Lecture, the Foundation will host Deepak Raja (Kumar Gandharva Memorial Lecture), Ashish Rajyadhyaksha (Mani Kaul Memorial Lecture), Dr. Alok Rai (Agyeya Memorial Lecture), Ramin Jehanbegaloo (Daya Krishna Memorial Lecture) and Prof. B.N. Goswami (Gaitonde Memorial Lecture) over the coming months.
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