Youth Blog Spot: Fall in Review

Posted on January 29, 2014 by


As the Chitresh Das Dance Company & Chhandam School of Kathak move full speed ahead into 2014, Chhandam Youth Dance Company Member, Mayuka Sarukkai takes a moment to reflect on the exciting fall offerings from 2013, sharing her thoughts from the events.

By Mayuka Sarukkai (Age 16)

As I look back over yet another eventful year for the Kathak world, I’d like to reflect on some of my experiences from the house seats ― and occasionally from the “stage” itself ― at a few of these exciting events.

When Dadaji told us to “really dress up,” the Chhandam moms certainly took his words to heart. Decked out in sequined ghaghras and salon-quality hair fastened with rhinestone clips, they stood beaming for selfies. The line of eager audience members snaked along the front of the Mill Valley theater and across the parking lot. As the doors opened and the bustling crowd flooded the small theater and I drew a deep breath of that buttery popcorn air, I thought, wow, this is real. Finally, the world could see the real India on the big screen.

This was my third time watching the film, but I firmly believe (despite several attempts to convince myself otherwise) that I watched a different movie that afternoon. Upaj felt complete and self-contained like it had not before ― and to watch the audience rise to its feet as the stars Pandit Chitresh Das and Jason Samuels Smith ascended the stage for a live performance made the experience all the more monumental.

Perhaps a finished product shown up on that screen, but this movement is far from the finish ― the Mill Valley Film Festival marked just the beginning of introducing classical arts and a unique cross-cultural collaboration to a wider and more accepting audience.

241616_2088400570140_1469362_oSEIBI LEE: EVENING OF KATHAK
The next weekend, my family and I were in for another treat ― Seibi Lee’s solo. The retelling of a traditional Chinese tale in Kathak style stood testament to the ability of the dance form to transcend cultural boundaries and reveal universal truths. I enjoyed watching elements of abhinaya (storytelling) from gat bhao pieces of Indian tales such as Sita Haran and Shakuntala manifest themselves in Seibi Didi’s retelling of the story. As captivating as her character portrayals were her nazaakat (delicacy) in her fluid movement and her crisp technique landed in piercing stances. Seibi Didi’s beautiful performance embodied the definition of “commanding the stage,” a phrase I hear often as a student of dance but struggle to emulate. To be able to radiate a commanding presence as Dadaji does is as challenging as executing the technique of Kathak itself ― to dance alone on stage and hold an audience captive for two hours is likewise no easy feat. The solo art form has it tough in the real world; it must battle instant gratification, rival eye-candy in popular media, and overcome audience preconceptions and filters with regards to the classical arts. Seibi Didi adeptly brought to the modern stage a traditional art form and made it her own with a personal connection to her roots ― and by reaching deep into her own heart, she surely touched ours.

Shiva Final.jpgSHIVA
To close out the packed month of October, the CDDC presented its world premiere of Shiva at the Z Space in San Francisco. Complete with beautiful original music by a live orchestra of talented musicians, dazzling production visuals and costumes, and of course, powerful dancing by an all-female cast, Shiva was an invigorating performance that invoked and sustained a dark intensity from the opening tantric chants to the final opening of Shiva’s third eye. My uncle who attended the show with us walked out of the auditorium blown away by the raw energy and power created by an explosive combination of dance, music, and production elements.

Atmika Sarukkai wrote this poem in reaction to the show:

Drums beating wildly
Bells ringing incessantly
Chants building to a crescendo
Footsteps reaching hostility
Frenzied souls conjure
a stampede

Before the show, Rachna Nivas presented her new work Meera, the embodiment of “girl power” ― again, Rachna Didi amazed me with her ability to captivate her audience and portray several characters with genuine and heart-wrenching emotion complemented by powerful technique. Rachna Didi’s call for women empowerment, world peace, and ultimate bhakthi continue to resonate with the modern-day society and reflect the ability for dance to become a vehicle for social change.

The Youth Company put on its annual celebration of Dadaji’s birthday early in November ― complete with several kathak yoga performances, beautiful Marathi folk dance, a special skit prepared by the Senior YC members, and delicious baked goods, the celebration (and the smile on Dadaji’s face) made all the late night practices that week completely worth it! In fact, putting the “show” together was the least we could do to express our gratitude for the opportunity to receive the guidance and training of Dadaji.

Here, my sister Atmika relates her experience performing Kathak Yoga with the flute for the small piece we presented together for Dadaji as part of the show:

“Now, Atmika and Mayuka will be performing a piece on a fourteen beat taal.” Mayuka and I walk out on to the dance floor with our harmonium and flute as our piece is called. We dance mathematical footwork and end with tihais, rhythmic patterns that repeat themselves three times ― we took these tihais from other compositions and manipulated them to place them over a different rhythmical cycle. After our performance, I was both proud and humbled by how the process had stretched my knowledge of Kathak.  But what did it take to accomplish this? A lot of focus, stamina, and determination. Even deciding to perform a piece over a fourteen beat cycle was a big challenge to me because I had never tried dancing in a different taal before. Kathak yoga is both mentally and physically hard. Playing flute while dancing is especially physically challenging for me because I must exert air when blowing into the flute, and when dancing, you must also inhale and exhale. My experience performing this kathak yoga piece this year has helped me improve my stamina and focus and has helped me increase my knowledge about how mentally challenging kathak is.”

Later in November, we enjoyed participating in a smaller, local community outreach event before a more intimate audience. As part of the event, several members of the Youth Company performed a Kathak Yoga collaboration consisting of multiple instruments including manjira (finger cymbals), harmonium, and flute. The challenge already presented by Kathak Yoga, which requires dancers to simultaneously sing, recite, play an instrument, and dance complex mathematical footwork, was only elevated with the additional challenge of coordinating an orchestra of different instruments. In addition to our kathak yoga demonstrations, we performed a tarana in Raag Malkauns and ended a final kathak yoga piece to the song Raghupathi Raghava. We are so thankful to have such an opportunity to learn and explore kathak yoga and share what we’ve learned with the local community ― and the process of putting together a multi-instrumental kathak yoga piece has allowed us to learn much about ourselves.

Fall 2013 experienced quite its share of excitement in the Kathak community, and I look forward to another year of learning and engagement to come!