First Edition of the ‘Shimla Classical Dance Festival’

By Dr. Sunil Kothari

Inaguration of the festival by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur with Educatiional Minister, Suresh Bhardwaj

At the very outset one would like to congratulate the Department of Language and Culture of Himachal Pradesh for making the beginning of an annual classical dance festival at The Gaitey Theatre.Organized for 3days from 9th March, 2018to 11th March, 2018 and inaugurated by the Chief Minister Shri Jairam Thakur it featured three dance forms: Kathak,Manipuri and Bharatanatyam. Besides every day the young up and coming localKathakdancers were also presented.

On the opening night talented young Kumari Akshita Dhiman, a disciple of Smt Illa Pandey, well known Kathak guru of Himahcal Pradesh, impressed cognoscenti with her taiyyari with technical numbers like Uthan,  Bada thaat, Chakkardar tihai,Tode ,Tukde and a Thumari of Chakradhar Maharaj ‘Gori tore nayan naval madamate’, interspersing with gat bhav and gat nikas. Sparkling,graceful and expressive, she has potential of a mature Kathak dancer.The local musicians vocal DrLalchand, percussion tabla byAmit, violin byGunjan and padhant byPawankumar gave her able support.

 After that the Jaipur gharana exponent Rajendra Gangani took to the stage, with his impeccable Kathak exposition offering Panchamukhi prayer to Lord Shiva with Om NamahShivaya refrain. As often happens in case of established dancers, he was in great formon that night and regaled the audience with spontaneous improvisations. His Ganesh paranpreceded by Gajagati, elephant walk and subtle movements of mouse, vehicle of Ganesh was imaginative.

Geeta Chandran performing Bharatanatyam

His Thaat of Jaipur gharana was an exercise in precision. He created rain and dance of peacock by mere ankle bells, and bhajan to Pandit Jasraj’s stuti in praise of Rama and Hanuman, with his complete immersion in bhava, emotion left audience spellbound. Accompanied by his brother Fatehsingh on table and other musicians he kept audience in thrall. A memorable performance.

On second night,Kathak by Dinesh Gupta, a disciple of Smt.Illa Pandey and Lucknow gharanaPanditMunna Shukla, more in nature of demonstration, performed three stages of Kathak, of temple, of Mughal court, with Salami, and present dayKathak reciting bols and enacting abhinaya to mnemonic syllables. To the song, Yashoda beckoning child Krishna, Radha asking Krishna and devotional mood of Mira he performed competently. His foot work and chakkars were flawless. What he has to guard against is over the top bhava, and expressions of female characters.

From Kolkata, Bimbavati Devi, Guru Bipinsingh and Kalavati Devi’s vastly gifted daughter and her troupe presented Manipuri dances. Noted dance critic LeelaVenkataraman introduced the form that helped audience to appreciate the subtleties of Manipuri dance which was presented for the first time in Shimla. Dressed in gorgeous costumes of mirrored skirt ArpitaSaha as Radha and Bimbavati as Krishna with typical crown, their duetPanthaJagoi, showing Lasya and Tandava,was a gem of choreography by Guru Bipinsingh. Vivacious and energetic Bimbavati in Nannichuri,Krishna stealing butter, charmed away audience with her abhinaya. However, Brajen Kumar, the pung player, drummer with his dynamic and brilliant playing on drum and simultaneously dancing, and taking aerial somersaults brought down the house winning rounds of applause. The Balaram and Kanhai playing with ball in Kandukkhel, performed by Arpita and Bimbavati was joyous in spirit whereas the finale by Bimbavati in praise of Lord Shiva was imaginatively choreographed by her, based on Rudrashtakam. Singer Pramila Devi from Imphal rendered songs in typical Manipuri style. Since Manipuri was so far never presented in Shimla, it received enthusiastic response.

Vishal Thankur, a local kathak dancer from Himachal Pradesh

On the final day young Vishal Thakur, currently studying underRanjendraGangani, presented traditional Kathak items. He has a stage worthy presence. In his Thaat, Aamad, Tode, Tukde, Paran in Teen tala there was graceful ‘ang’ and pleasant execution. In Dhrupad ‘Tandavagati mundane par nirtataVanamali’ the expressions were controlled. In Gat bhav and Gat nikas movements were graceful. Barring over enthusiasm and showing off in jugalbandi and tatkar the overall impression he created was of a good performer. With more exposure he should make the grade.

From Delhi, the celebrated Bharatanatyam exponent Geeta Chandran had carefully selected items keeping in view the audience of Shimla. With her very first number kavutvam by Ganagmuttainattuvanar in praise of Lord Shiva, she had audience eating out of her hands. Vivacious and seasoned dancer that she is, she in Meera’s bhajan in Maand raga ‘Mane chakar rakhoji’ danced totally immersing herself as Krishna’s devotee. The song and her abhinaya had instant appeal. However, the piece de resitancewas VanajakshiVarnam in Behag. As Rajiv Chandran comparing the performance, with his customary finesse, mentioned it was her favorite varnam for more than 20 years.

Rajendra Gangani performing Kathak

Geeta as Krishna with lotus eyes, playing the flute cast a spell on all, the entire nature, birds, animals. Praised by the rishis Sanaka and others who touch his feet, she took off the sanchari weaving in story of Vamanavatara, asking three baby steps from Baliraja. Vishnu took Vishwarupa and in one step covered Prithvi, raising the leg covered skyin second step, and asked where to put third step. Baliraja bowed his head and Lord placed his foot on it pushing him under the earth. Geeta excelled in dramatic depiction.
Charanam describing Krishna asmore beautiful than hundreds of Kamadeva saw Geeta in exulted mood.

The Suradaspada ‘Sunisuta’, Yashoda telling story of Ramayana to child Krishna, Geeta vividly created characters. The narration of key events culminating Ravana’s coming in disguise as mendicant and kidnapping Sita, listening to it Krishna jumping from lap of Yashoda, assuming form of Rama asking Lakshmana to give him a bow, was full of chamatkar.Yashoda’s wonderment at Krishna’s getting up and again assuming the form of child Krishna were enacted with consummate artistry. The finale with Radha Raman bhajan earned artists standing ovation. The musicians RajatPrasanna (flute), DrS.Vasudev withRupaKathal (vocal), Manohar Balachandran(mridangam), S. Sankaran(nattuvangam) and lighting by Sharad Kulashrestha highlighted the performance.