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Kathak choreography

Kathak choreography follows structured proceedings that have been standardised over time. These are sequential in nature.

Before the actual performance begins, an elaborate customary sequence takes place. The instrumental ensemble first plays a ‘laher’ (a wavy composition) in vilambit laya (prolonged, lingering tempo) on harmonium, which is followed by a long uthan (start-up) on tabla. With this musical ‘prelude’ in place, the dancer then enters the stage and firstly pays obeisance to the guru (teacher) and the vocal and instrumental artists, and then takes up a specific stand-still Kathak posture at the horizontal-vertical centre point of the stage. This act heralds the beginning of the performance, which is segmented into various sequential progressive phases.

Ganesh Vandana: Invocation of Lord Ganesha before commencing any act or event is considered auspicious in Indian religious belief system. Kathak performance is no exception. In certain cases, this ritual is also accompanied by Shiv Vandana, an invocation of Lord Shiva, who is the creator and performer of the cosmic dance.

Thatt or Thaatt: This is the first composition of the performance after Ganseh Vandana in which the dancer performs short-lived but elegant and alluring acts like mukhra, tukra, tihai and chalan in conjunction with recitation of taal (rhythm) in vilambit laya (tempo). The composition concludes in a stand-still posture.

Aamad: The term literally means ‘to arrive’. It is performed with Natvari bol which is the first linguistic/vocal component of the performance. In the composition, the grace and charm of the dancer’s kinaesthetic exploits are elevated.

Salaami: This is the Mughal salutation to the audience.

Kavit: After salaami, the dancer commences the performance on a kavit – a lyric or poetic composition, with the body movements and gestures decoding its meaning or implication.

Paran: During the enaction of paran, various bols from Pakhawaj like dhumkit, gadigan, dhagethit, etc. are added to the composition. This is in addition to the dance and table bols, and is generally considered a progression of the dance.

Parmelu or Primalu: Bols that imitate or emulate sounds from nature constitute this composition. Some examples are kukuthere (birds), jhijhikita (sound of ankle bells), tigdadigdig (strut of a peacock).

Toda: At intervening phases, various todas like toda of adilaya, powerful and mellowed toda, etc. are interjected into the composition, which the dancer herself or himself has to recite. This feature is also presented as a short question-answer type of interaction between the dancer and the table player.

Tatkar: This is a critical part of Kathak dance in which the performer uses a synchronised feet-and-hand kinaesthetic vocabulary and even sings, while she performs the sang bol.

Gat bhav: The term is derived from gait or stride. The dancer uses highly stylised and dramatic gat to portray mundane everyday activities that are being described through the narrative. A good example is the romantic rendezvous between Radha-Krishna or the childhood tale of Lord Krishna in which he steals butter (makhanchor).

Ladi: This is a predominantly footwork composition in which often, a single theme is interpreted varyingly by choreographers and presented differently, but inevitably, the composition ends in a tihai.

Tihai: This concluding composition again encompasses crafty footwork performed repeatedly on vilambit (long and lingering) set of bols. At the climax point, the composition ends dramatically on a sam.

The bhav or emotive/expressive aspect of Kathak: This particular aspect evolved during the Mughal era and has become an integral part of the dance. It is the ‘other half’ of choreography in which the emotion of the narrative is expressed explicitly through facial gestures, often in sync with kinetic movements. This feature is also utilised to present the choreographer’s subjective interpretation of the narrative.

During the Mughal era, Kathak was performed in front of royal gatherings (mehfils) in courts (darbar), and so this aspect was adopted and developed to a fine art which synthesised with the choreography and complemented it to make the end-production lavish, highly evocative and expressive.

Resultantly, the bhav aspect became the emotional language of Kathak. It was very effective because of the close proximity of the dancer to the audience, due to which the gestures and expressions are clearly seen and interpreted by the audience.

Content strategy and content development: Rajvee Mehta
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