Legends and their legacies

The past few days saw a host of musical and dance concerts being organised in memory of some of the most legendary performing artistes in the field of classical music and dance in India. One such event as the Pandit Durga Lal Festival, organised by the Samved Society for Performing Arts. Now in its 22nd year, the festival is a tribute to the Kathak maestro, Pandit Durga Lalji, from his disciple and prominent danseuse Pandita Uma Dogra.

Kathak maestro Pandit Durga Lal ji of the Jaipur gharana

Held on January 19th in Mumbai, the festival was a wonderful exposition on a word that’s common currency in the field of dance and music: legacy. While the crowd puller was the ebullient Pandit Chitresh Das, the three classical performances in the first half of the programme, clubbed under the theme of Gati Gayand, held their own in terms of grace, creativity and interpretation.

Dograji herself led her students in a presentation, while Vaibhav Arekar and his students performed a piece on Bharatanatyam. Dakhsa Mashruwala, the renowned Odissi dancer, completed the triumvirate of performances. There was a common thread running through all the performances of Gati Gayand – gurus presenting with their students, showcasing their own legacies and values on a platform that honoured a legendary performer himself.

Pandit Durga Lalji passed away on 21st January, 1990, but not before inspiring many generations of Kathak dancers with his own unique genius and an unmatched flair. He was as creative as he was traditional, seeking to further the art form in his students. On the Nehru Centre stage in Mumbai, the show matched his values.

The performance by Dograji and her students was all nifty footwork, elegance and timing. Vaibhav Arekar, an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, took forward the theme of time and space in an astoundingly beautiful  composition that kept one enthralled as it went on. The energy and modernity were offset by the graceful performance of Daksha Mashruwala and her students, who performed an Odissi dance.

A week later, on India’s 63rd Republic Day, it was the turn of Pandit Chitresh Das to enthral crowds at the NCPA. The show was ‘Fastest Feet in Rhythm’, performed by the American tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith and Pandit Chitresh Das, who weaves elements of the Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas in his dance.

The Fastest Feet in Rhythm featuring Pandit Chitresh Das and tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith

The show is a unique jugalbandi that will appeal even to the people who do not follow classical dance. The sheer energy of the performers is infectious and laudable. This edition of the show was no different and as the duo tour different parts of India, there is no doubt that the response will be just as heart-warming.

However, even as the maestros performed, it was the first four pieces that we believe were laudable. Students of Chhandam Nritya Bharati in Mumbai were given their first introduction to the stage.   For many of the young kids performing, it would have been a daunting thought. But they performed as only children can: whole-heartedly and with an enthusiasm and joy that is hard to match.

When he came on to perform, Panditji thanked the crowd for applauding the young ones and in a sentence encapsulated the importance that the tradition of kathak holds for him. He said, ‘They’ve blessed the stage for me.’

It was a statement that echoed throughout the concert, even in the words of Seema Mehta, director of the Chhandam Institute, who spoke about keeping a legacy alive, not just for the sake of it, but so that future generations could enjoy and appreciate an intrinsic part of our culture.  

Note: Vaibhav Arekar and the students from his academy, Sankhya Dance Creations are slated to perform at the upcoming Kalaghoda Arts Festival, 2012, to be held in Mumbai from February 4-12, 2012. For further details and show timings, please check the festival website: www.kalaghodaassociation.com

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