Monday, August 6, 2007

Almost a Year of Kathak

Some of my readers are aware that for much of the past year, I have been studying kathak from Gretchen Hayden of the Chhandika Chhandam Institute of Kathak Dance. Kathak, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a dance-theatre form (I have read that "dance" is a misnomer resulting from British colonists attempting to translate what they observed into their own categories) that while having ancient roots, began to take its modern form in Northern India and modern day Pakistan, under the influence of the Mughal courts where it took on influences of Persian dance.

Kathak is a classical performance art form in that it conforms to the theories and guidelines of the Natya Shastra written by the sage, Bharata Muni. There appears to be some minor disagreement amongst scholars of whether there are six, seven, or eight schools of dance-theatre that are of classical stature, and since I am not a scholar in the field and have no opinion on the matter.

I had first become aware of Indian dance in general in 2003 when I was present for an informal presentation by foreign student at Open Floor, a sort of workshop and show and tell for movement artists. I immediately saw the formalist storytelling elements, and saw a commonality between Indian dance traditions and European mime (specifically the corporeal mime I had been studying from James Van Looy) as well as the impulse to synthesize movement with poetry-- something I first saw articulated by William J. Barnum. (Cosmic Spelunker Theatre began as a trio between Barnum, Van Looy, and myself.)

I began to seek out every Indian dance concert I saw announced, first becoming aware of Bharatanatyam which developed primarily in Tamil Nadu, before seeing a student show by Chhandika and being exposed to Kathak. I attended a few shows as well as a few open workshops until last fall, when one of the more advanced students noted, "you've been attending our concerts for years and you are a performer, why don't you come study with us?" So I did.

A kathak performance involves a recitation of either a poem or of bols (a composition of syllables used as notation by Indian drummers) while engaged in complex percussive footwork while the upper body mimes the narrative. I was obviously first attracted by the mimetic and poetic elements, but it is the rhythmic footwork that forms the foundation of this dance, and percussion has never been my strong point-- so it has been a steep learning curve for me-- but I have been learning.

Post a Comment