IC: Tell us briefly about some of your efforts towards making Kathak an internationally recognizable dance form.
SN: Kathak is my breath, my life. Hence whatever I do, think and emote is within the Kathak framework. I have performed across the globe and in India during national and international festivals. I have collaborated with well-known artists of several dance styles such as Western classical ballet, Spanish flamenco, American tap dance, worked with Buddhist monks and also with dancers belonging to various Indian classical dance styles. I have also performed to Western classical music (Ravel, Debussy, Schubert, Mozart, etc.) and to texts written by several non-Indian poets and philosophers such as Omar Khayyam, Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, Kahlil Gibran and many others. And, of course, I have danced to poetry written by Indian philosophers and poets from various parts of the country.
Each of these collaborative works illustrated the transcendence of boundaries in the field of art as they brought forth the universality of the human emotional response, movements, musical notes and rhythm. Through collaborations, the co-artistes became aware about the salient details and beauty of Kathak but also the audiences in various parts of the globe realize this truth through watching such collaborative works and my solo performances. In addition, through dance workshops and lectures across India and in other countries I have worked to increase awareness about the beauty of Kathak, an art form which has survived for over 2,500 years.
IC: Tell us more about how you redefined the traditional dance form of Kathak through its fusion with other major international dance forms.
SN: As stated earlier, in such collaborations, we artistes saw how several movements were similar, yet they exuded different flavors. Different ethos to approaching the movements lent the different flavors in each form. If Kathak and Spanish flamenco were gravity bound, Western classical ballet was anti-gravity, giving an ethereal feel. Between Kathak and Spanish flamenco, there was also a difference in emphasis given to each movement that contributed again to creating different flavors. The same was true of pirouettes and the manner in which they are performed within these three different dance styles. As for footwork, we found this to be a common feature between Kathak, Spanish flamenco and American tap dance. Hence when doing our duets or trios, we took this aspect into account in our collaborative works.
The above are a few illustrations. It was fascinating to see how so many avenues opened up during our collaborations and each one provided so much learning and beauty in working out a collage that created a beautiful picture with each artiste maintaining the identity of his or her style.
IC: Tell our readers about some of the books on dance that you have written over the years.
SN: Among the 15 books written till date, barring three, all others have been on the subject of dance and the arts such as Kathak, Indian classical dance and theatre traditions, folk dance traditions of India, dance and yoga, Nataraj, and the Shree Raghunath temple. The three exceptions were Policy Perspective on Indian Performing Arts, Meandering Pastures (that was based on my experiences) and a biography of my father-in-law, Erwin Traxl and what he suffered under Hitler as he was anti-Nazi.
IC: Give us an insight into how you are keeping the legacy of Kathak alive by nurturing the talent of many young dancers whom you promote at the LalitArpan Festival that you organize every year.
SN: The LalitArpan Festival started in 2002 when late Ustad Shafat Ahmed Khan and I were reminiscing about our early days. As young artistes, we received a lot of support and were projected along with established artistes by some of the great artistes of yesteryears. We thought of continuing the tradition and started the festival to provide a platform to the new generation of artistes who are pursuing classical arts with so much dedication and hard work—even in the midst of the glamorous, enticing world of popular culture—they are carrying forward the classical performing arts legacy that is an identifying feature and pillar of Indian heritage. In this endeavor, Dr Jyotsna Suri and her late husband lent their full hearted support. Thus, the festival has showcased and continues to showcase artistes of all genres of classical performing arts with artistes from across the globe.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com