Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kathak Intensive

Last weekend was the third weekend intensive I have attended since I began studying kathak at Chhandika under the tutelage of Gretchen Hayden. It has been a great undertaking to attempt to learn one of the classical dance forms of India, but what worthy undertaking is not difficult? In the past year, while I am still in the level I classes, I have attained some small amount of technique, confidence, and knowledge. The advantage of the weekend intensives is that it is a way of broadening one's understanding of kathak, often touching on subjects and exercises for which we have little time in our regular Sunday classes.

At one point Gretchenji had us dance tatkar in tintal (a sixteen beat cycle) in a circle, as one by one, one of us had to enter the circle and improvise a rhythmic motif and then return to the tatkar-- it was a circle where I was the only level I student in a room of level II and III students and having far less mastery over far fewer bols than my classmates left me anxious about an exercise that was difficult for many more advanced students, but when pushed to let go of my anxiety, Gretchenji pointed out that the important thing was that I attacked the improvisation with intensity even if my technique has far less developed. Again she taught me the same lesson when the more advanced students had to do a particularly difficult series of chakkars (spins on the heel of the foot-- different from the ballet pirouette which is done on the toe or ball of the foot) while traveling in a straight line across the studio space (difficult even for some advanced students) when it seemed impossible for me, she had me walk the line that the others danced, and I delivered the intensity that has come from my years as a mime. The lesson I took was do not let my awareness of what I don't know prevent me from dancing in the moment.

Later, when joined by some other level I students, we were assigned to develop our own tihais a dance phrase built on the same rhythmic motif or palla repeated three times in this case, a seventeen beat motif created from three five beat phrases with two one beat pauses in between. We had to create, rehearse, and perform our tihai -- again, a challenge to which we were unaccustomed in the level I classes.

Through the weekend we also had the chance to attempt more advanced repertoire like the storytelling from which my interest in Indian classical dance in general, and kathak in particular, first emerged. Appropriately, our intensive being on the taking place during the festival of Diwali (my friend from the blogosphere, Sindhu has posted a piece on Diwali on her blog) one of those stories we worked on was the defeat of the prideful Lord Indra by when Krishna lifted Govardhan hill to shelter the cowherds and their cows and again I realized, that for all my shortcomings with my footwork, I enjoy acting the part of Indra.

The intensive was also an opportunity to have musicians give extended presentations on how tabla, vocal music, and poetry relate to our dance studies, ultimately leading me to better understand how the rhythmic elements of the music relate to movement. Now the matter is getting my feet to learn what my mind is beginning to grasp.

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