The Story Unfolds in the Movements of the Hands and Wrists

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Shantilal Shah on tabla accompanied the virtuosi sitar playing of Jayanta Banerjee
Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

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Ustad Ghalam Farid Nizami (on tabla) with his son Faraz singing ghazals

By Jawahar Malhotra

STAFFORD: As the dancers five women and a man stood with their backs arched and hips thrust to one side to the audience, all you could see was their hands and wrists, twisting, turning, rising, falling and, if you were attuned to the subtleties, you could perhaps follow the story they were telling. The dancers turned around, stared straight at you with their expressive eyes that told more and added long flowing arms to the story and then their bodies and feet followed.

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Luna Poddar performed before the LP Dancers pieces

In a 15-minute piece that was a kathak inspired ballet, as invigorating to watch as it was for the dancers (who were drenched in sweat down their backs at the end) to perform, the performance by the Luna Poddar Dancers was exciting. For those who missed it at the North American Bengali Conference held last weekend, this was a rare treat at a repeat performance.

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Keka Kar performed a kathak number

The famed dancer performed herself to begin the dance portion of the Sur Jhankar program that was organized by Virtuosi of Performing Arts, which is owned by beloved Houston artist, Keka Kar (along with her husband Stayajit) who is better known for her singing than for the kathak artist that she also is. The program was held at the Old Stafford Civic Center on Friday, July 17 evening and the sets were designed by Aalponaa whose three partners (Sailaja Bandyopadhyay, Mumu Choudhury and Piyal Sengupta) were ecstatic about the performance. Music of India radio personality, the vivacious, poised and witty Meena Datt emceed the event and entertained the audience with the witty jokes that she is well-known for.

Kathak is a dance form that naturally lends itself to experimentation and is acquiring global fame for becoming the perfect bridge between the old and the new. The history of Kathak can be traced to temples, Mughal courts and the influence of Persian elements.  The exponents of Kathak dance are always challenged with how to make this art form relevant to a modern, younger and perhaps more demanding audience without losing the essence and not to show it as a museum piece. The fluidity of Kathak allows new age exponents – Like Poddar – to experiment with new ideas and creativity with renditions on both the Indian and international stage.

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The final dance performance by the LP Dancers was exciting and invigorating

Luna Poddar’s creative talent and enthusiasm for experimentation was reflected in the five neo-classical pieces that were performed. She explored the two aspects of athak; the story (Katha) and rhythm through two basic human emotions of love and valor. Poddar is recognized for bringing classical core to many film songs and has collaborated with artists around India to recreate and re-record each song in ways that highlight and enhance the novelty in Kathak. Her dance choreography has merged music from classical with current, showcasing the emotive power of Kathak in songs picturized in Bollywood films like Parineeta, Devdas, Umrao Jaan, Pakeezah, Mughl-e-Azam and Gadar.

The entire program was put together to tie-in to the tail end of the NAB Conference with the artists staying back to perform again. The musical portion that opened the evening featured the splendid sitar recital of Jayanta Banerjee, accompanied by Shantilal Shah on the table, who performed ragas that were mesmerizing for the versatility as well as for the build ups to crescendos and the fluid jugalbandi between the two artists. With Shah’s son Anuraag also playing tabla, they accompanied Poddar in a feat of jugalbandi which she played out with her feet in front of a microphone taped to the stage to amplify her beats!
The evening also featured the musical ghazal-singing duo from Austin of Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami and his 14-year-old son Faraz which the deep, husky mature voice of a man many years older. They interchanged playing on the harmonium and table and singing two mesmerizing ghazals. The evening ended with a performance of the winners of the NABC Idol for adults as the first runner up Moumita Choudhury and winner Payal Mitra performed their selections for the audience.