Rang: North Indian Dance and Drums
Nirupama and Rajendra on-stage
This Saturday, the Kabir Culture Centre presents award-winning husband and wife Indian dance duo Rajendra Tumkur and Nirupama Rajendra. The performance, Rang, features a variety of dances styles to recorded and live musicians, and is sure to stir the soul and excite the senses.
Kathak dance is a technically rigorous traditional form, requiring years of devoted practice, that disciplines every part of the body from foot to fingertip to eyebrow. It’s all in the service of telling the stories of mythical heroes and heroines, or displaying the pinnacle of pure technique and rhythmic interplay between musicians and dancers. Heading Abhinava Dance Company of Bangalore, Nirupama and Rajendra explore both traditional and innovative forms.
Cult MTL talked with the dancers about the show and their craft.
Marilee Nugent: East Indian dance is quite accessible to Westerners, but what you are doing is very different than Bollywood dance.
Nirupama Rajendra: We are rooted in classical, and yet creating new forms. We do a lot of our own choreographies.
“Kathak” means story. We tell stories from mythology about gods, goddesses and great personalities, through hand gestures, facial expressions, using text, music, costumes. It was patronized in the courts of the Hindu and Mogul kings, so a lot of things got added. Kathak has been moving from the temple background to the courts and to present-day proscenium theaters, and it has imbibed over a period of time wonderful elements from these cultures.
In Saturday’s concert, the first half is going to be traditional, with traditional north Indian music, Hindustani music, with storytelling elements and also elements from the courts.
Marilee Nugent: I was curious about your fusion pieces. What non-Indian music do you use, or what do you find goes well with the rhythms of the dance?
Nirupama Rajendra: We have tried with Afro-percussion, we have tried with jazz, with Spanish, because the kathak is very close to flamenco. The gypsies from India, when they traveled, went [to Spain], so there are a lot of similarities between kathak and flamenco.
Marilee Nugent: Can you talk a bit about the rhythms? From what little I know, the use of rhythms is very complex.
Rajendra Tumkur: It’s like infinite possibility and permutations and combinations of rhythm patterns. The dancers have 250 bells on each ankle weighing three kilos each. The beauty is in how we use those bells like instruments.
The footwork is like hands playing percussion, the foot tapping with the gungurus, the bells. We use different parts of the feet: flat, sides, toes, heel. And each produces a different kind of sound, like TAAH, ken, tah, ting. And then we build compositions with the footwork, with each other, the tabla, the instruments. We even make the audience take part.
Nirupama Rajendra: Any emotion is actually contemporary. If we are showing the emotion of love, it is eternal, whether Krishna felt it, or Rama felt it or Akbar felt it or any present-day hero, the emotion of love is the same. Being neglected by a heroine, how a man would feel, it’s the same. How a woman, when she’s ignored by a man, how she would feel, or, the wantingness to be with a partner, to have a companion, what we call sringara [erotic or romantic love] is eternal. So all of our stories are very contemporary in their emotions and in their messages.
I feel we don’t need to take a contemporary story, because there is nothing really interesting in the normal contemporary world, in the sense of being as beautiful, as in the ancient.
I don’t think I want to show a present-day romance between a boy and a girl. I would still prefer to show Radha and Krishna. It’s more poetic. Even plucking a flower. A woman, the way she makes her braid, or even a man who makes a braid for her, yah? Those are all such sweet elements. And we need those actions for dance to create that “ah-ha!”
Marilee Nugent: Do you have any thoughts about what kathak can bring to contemporary culture?
Nirupama Rajendra: If we take dance as a mode of communication, it is a process where the audience as well as the artist, they come together. And that coming together and that “ah-ha!” feel is what we call rasa. Our ancient texts say that that “ah-ha!” feel that an audience and an artist feels is equivalent to the highest bliss. That experience is one of the most beautiful experiences. And we’ll be sharing that.
Marilee Nugent: It sound like this moment that you strive for is unavailable from a recording, because it’s the energy between the audience and the performers that is important.
Nirupama Rajendra: Yes, because this is a live art. It happens at once in time and space. It’s like live energies, transferring of energies, so it’s a living thing. As long is that is active, art is… bzzzzzz, everywhere.
Rajendra Tumkur: It is created, and then it’s gone.
Nirupama Rajendra: It’s a fascinating experience, for the artist to share, and for the audience to get that “wow!” You cannot buy the experience of art. You need to just be there. With art, with artists. ■
Rang takes place Aug. 25 at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall (7142 Sherbrooke W.), 7:30 p.m., sliding scale admission, $24-100