Though she admits that rarely watches Bollywood movies, Nag says recognized a classical core in many filmi songs and collaborated with artists around India to recreate and rerecord each song in ways that highlight and enhance this. Bollywood dances are a mélange of classical, folk, and world influences, but Nag challenged herself to choreograph using only pure kathak. Through her journey down Bollywood’s memory lane, she highlights the old but dynamic history of kathak as it moved from temple to Mughal courts and to the contemporary stage.
The show blends tradition with the contemporary from the outset. Nag opens with “Tere Naam” to perform the traditional opening vandana or salutation. From there the show launches straight into the challenge of merging classical and current, crafting striking kathak sequences from the rhythms of “Dhoom,” “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” and other modern songs. She moves from the new to the old and introduces a Bollywood classic, “Guddi.” This semi-classical music is the perfect medium for showcasing the emotive power of kathak.
The stories of Radha, Krishna, and the gopis of Vrindavan tie together the next three acts. Students tell the story of the young Krishna and his antics, of stealing butter and playing dress up with his mother, Yashoda, though music from Amar Prem. The choreography moves to the love of Radha and Krishna through the music of Kohinoor. As sweet as this love may be, we see a very different side of Krishna in a song from Mughal-E-Azam.
Nag then unravels the evolution of kathak showing contrasting sides of emotion and love. In a medley piece that draws upon music from movies including Babul, Chitralekha, and Gadar she illustrates the agony of waiting for a loved one to return. Emotions change to ecstasy when lovers unite in Parineeta, Devdas, and Umrao Jaan. The joy is short-lived as the music changes to Bawarchi, Pakeezah, and Monsoon Wedding. Nag and her students take turns playing the grieving lover, pleading, and then reluctantly accepting the inevitability of separation.
The show promises a visual treat for lay viewers and kathak aficionados alike. The newcomer to kathak will be thrilled by the reinterpretations of familiar melodies. The kathak expert can expect to see movements that date back to kathak’s mujra days and pieces impeccably interweaving both nritya (rhythmic choreography) and abhinaya, emotion and drama. As Nag says, “People think of Bollywood dance as dhoom-dharaka but we can reinterpret it with kathak, too!”
Nag has spent over a year researching and rehearsing her troupe for just this one show. With a novel show it’s easy to forget that Tarangini is not solely a company of professionals, over 180 students will be dancing this evening.
Sunday, April 17, 5 p.m. Smithwick Theater, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. $18, $25. Tickets: www.eventbrite.com/event/1279875141. (408-) 374-8017, (510) 490-8122, (415) 742-2676. firstname.lastname@example.org. taranginischoolofkathak.org.