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In an interview after being awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by The National Endowment for the Arts in 2004, Anjani Ambegaokar said, “My goal has always been to continue to strive to make myself a complete artist with a deep rooted tradition, new ideas and a mission of taking kathak dance to new heights, and new places, and new audiences.” Ambegaokar, the first Indian dancer to receive the prestigious award, demonstrates her longtime commitment to the kathak heritage in the U.S. in her upcoming production, “Kathak Stories.”
“Kathak Stories” will present student dancers from Ambegaokar’s Sundar Kala Kendra Kathak Dance School and junior and senior dance company artistes of Anjani’s Kathak Dance of India. The first piece, performed by the juniors of Anjani’s Kathak Dance of India Company will, according to Ambegaokar, “tell the story of how after 30 years the next generation of daughters of the first group of dancers have started learning and dancing.” Speaking on its theme, she says, “‘Kathak Stories’ will represent the basic essence of what kathak dance is about—the art of storytelling. Kathak dancers (engage in) the medium of storytelling with intricate rhythmic footwork, graceful movements, and subtle facial expressions. Each one of these performed in isolation can tell a story, too.”
Ambegaokar is known for mainstreaming kathak by showing a communion between the dance and popular music, or societal trends. For example, she presented “The Art of Basketball, Kathak Style” in 2006, inspired by the brilliant and complicated footwork of basketball players. The piece depicted a parallel between the grace and athleticism of the dance and the sport, showcasing defying leaps and basketball shots on stage.
In her new production, the mainstreaming will be in the form of junior performers presenting Disney’s “It’s a Small World” in a bid to unify audiences and stretch the boundaries of ethnic presentations of art.
Ambegaokar’s daughter, Amrapali Ambegaokar—of Cirque du Soleil (“Dralion”) and “Superstars of Dance” (NBC), and the principal dancer and associate choreographer of Anjani’s Kathak Dance of India Company—will present a surprise piece relating to the theme of the production. Another piece to look out for is lead dancer Smita Rawal Alves’ portrayal of a gopi (milkmaid) imagining a conversation with Krishna, based on a composition of Ambegaokar’s guru, Sundarlaljee Gangani. Other highlights of the production include “Makhan Chori,” based on a composition by poet Surdas, “Kalia Mardan,” a dance drama performed in the gat-style of kathak, and another composition of Gangani, “Tu Hi Mero Naath.” The dancers’ costumes that have been specially produced in India.
A special treat for the audience is the music, which includes performances by renowned musicians such as Ramesh Kumar on tabla, Pankaj Mishra on sarangi, and Neal Bharati on vocals/harmonium.