August 17, 2013

Reflections on Kadamb and Kumudini Lakhia in Bombay

I've often wondered whether senior artists tire of blessing the scores of people who dive down at their feet. They must put up with this, and multiple inanities that other generations have not grown out of yet. Why are we so sycophantic in our dealings with artists? 

In two days, Kumudini Lakhia has left me enthralled. I love her; she is so charming and acerbic, I wish she were my grandmother. I have never seen her work on stage earlier, but I have been reading about her for many years now, and this has made her assume a mythical significance in my book of choreographers whose work I couldn't wait to watch. 

Perhaps it was not the right way to receive a new work - but what I finally saw struggled to affirm that image of startlingly revolutionary dancing I had painted in my mind's eye. The dancing was good, mostly synchronised. There were a few moments that were positively electric; for instance - when Sanjukta Sinha's tatkar reverberated through her entire body at the end of Yugal. 

I don't have a very detailed idea of the evolution of Kathak, but I sense that Kumudini's work brought about a great shift in how Kathak was performed and understood at one time. I yearn to be able to see her work through that chronological lens. I want to share her great regard for Atul Desai, her music composer of four decades. But  I cannot ignore the Muzak-like tunes. Or the stencilled light design in too many colours (though, sometimes, the blinding light elevates the dancing in a way that flat light just doesn't).

The disco lights make much of the work look like a corporate gig, and I'm not sure if that is a bad thing, but it is just too much clutter where I was expecting none.

Kumudini says that she encourages her students to choreograph and take ownership of their performances. Yet, Kumudini and Kadamb are tangled entities - one is because of the other, and vice versa. So even if some of these pieces were not choreographed by her, they get slotted as work she endorses.

Standing ovations are such a mob-driven thing. Someone stands, then two others stand, then the people sitting next to them stand, then the row behind them feels awkward and stands, and soon enough, everyone is standing and clapping as if their lives depended on it, even though most of them couldn't care less.

But I digress. Today's performance was followed by a discussion with Ratna Pathak-Shah, who took everyone through Kumudini's life beautifully (but persisted  in saying Ram Kumar instead of Ram Gopal). And the audience questions that followed - they were gems. It is touching that people are moved by art, moved enough to want to move themselves. But their gushing comments and questions obliterate the already marginal space afforded to critical questioning in classical dance. 

I am all for nostalgia and reminiscence as an important mode of writing about the arts. But a post-performance discussion critiques the performance one has just seen, not:

  • Madam can you please open a dance class branch in Bombay? 
  • If we cannot come to Kadamb or cannot dance due to other reasons, what advice do you have if we really want to be able to dance? (To which she said - so start dancing again! :D)
  • How old is too old, to begin dancing? (Aforementioned questioner goes on to list the ages of his various family members...)
  • Your feet are always moving even while you sit and talk! (oh golly that is so cool, you must be a dancer!!!)
  • What was your experience of Rekha when you took her out in a burqa while shooting Umrao Jaan in Lucknow (in that vein)? (Also analyse the bhavas on her face under the veil and other nuances of her hidden abhinaya).

The session degenerated into a cloying wah-wah clapfest, and I never got to ask her what I really wanted to. How does she see her choreographic work in the present-day context? Has its immediacy been altered by the passage of time? Has she felt that, perhaps, it is time for yet another shift?

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