Kathak dance shows are common in India, many dance teachers and gurus have had performances of their style for decades now. But recently Shringar Mani and Hirkani Awardee Guru Vijayshree Choudhary asked me to be a part of a Kathak show. I have known Vijayshreeji for about 15years now. She is a disciple of the legendary Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj and was also the Cultural ambassador of India to Indonesia, so a call from a diva like her is always a wonderful feeling.
Vijayshreeji told me that she was having a show ‘Katha Kathak Ki’ where she wanted me to perform a Kathak piece. Initially, I was reluctant but then her charm took over me and I had no option but to give-in to the demands of this graceful dancer. I had always read in my dance books during my dance education that Spanish Paso Doble and flamenco had Indian roots from the Kathak, but as soon as our rehearsals began I started to realise the similarities.
In the dance, I was to play the character of mischievous Lord Krishna and she was Radha. The song chosen by her Guru Pandit Birju Maharajwas ‘Hori’. I remember, when I met Maharajji over coffee in Delhi some time back he had told me about ‘Hori’ composition of his and how dear this song was to him. He also informed me that he had danced to it many a times. Thinking of the conversation with Maharaji and dancing the same piece with one of his favourite students I was very nervous.
I have always admired and appreciated the Kathak and witnesses many shows but this was not going to be a cake walk I was sure. Guru Vijayshree made me relax a bit and patiently taught methe finer points of the compositions that we were dancing.
I remember one part in the dance where I was just not able to understand the beats as they were different from western beats and the style of counting was different too. Vijayshreeji called live musician to explain it to me. That is when she decided that I responded better to live music than the recorded one, she decided to do the show with live musicians. It was a great idea I thought but it made me more nervous. As even a small mistake on part of either the dancer or the musician can make the act look bad. Our rehearsals began with full swing and each day I grew more nervous and she grew more confident of me. It was a strange situation.
Then came the night before the show, I received a call from her again asking me to host the evening as her compere for the evening was not present for the show. My heart sank, I was anyway nervous about the Kathak, I was going to perform for the first time ever and now hosting too for the first time ever. One bomb dropped on me after another I felt, but like I mentioned before when the diva calls no one refuses. I stayed up all night to rehearse the script and then came the evening of the show.
Chief Guest, the legendary actress Padmashree Asha Parekh lighted the auspicious lamp along with guest of honour actor director Saurabh Shukla. Vijayshreeji and my gorgeous student Miss world runners up Parvathy Omanakuttan hosted the evening with me. Later we were complimented for our jobs as comperes and were told that we made a good pair as hosts for the evening.
There were many performances, from Shiva Stuti to story of Kathak, from Tarana to Nriytakeli, from Sufi mixed Kathak to Kathak in film, as each performance was over I became more nervous. Dressed in my Deepak Shah and Neeta Lulla designed gold brocade sherwani with red Patiala salwarI tried to look like Lord Krishna. On the other hand, Vijayshreeji in her traditional gold and red lehenga choli was a splendid asRadha.
Our dance was the finale piece and when the music began, I remembered my dance teachers of Ballroom who always told me “Dance be it western or Indian, dance is dance, it has the same language just that the ways of expressions may be bit different.” That was it, I don’t remember what happened after that, the only memory I have is that post the show all the guest present there, be it former director of national school of drama Ramgopal Bajaj or yesteryears actress Shammiji, another Birju Maharaj student Neelima Azeem, actors like Sameer Dharmadhikari, Vijay Raaz, Jesse Randhawa and others congratulated Vijayshreeji and me for the show and the dynamic finale. One of them even came and told me that the dance looked as if Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha had actually descended on stage to show their naughtiness to the audience. I guess that is the beauty of dance and the dancer that they can transcend you into another world and make you believe in all that they do.
I am specially writing this piece to thank Guru Vijayshree Choudhary for believing in me and asking me to partner her for the finale dance of her show. I surely cannot reach the perfectness that Birju Maharaj has inculcated in her but sharing the stage with her and performing the same dance act makes me humble.
(Sandip Soparrkar is a well known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement Award and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected])