Nag is a senior disciple of Padmavibushan Pandit Birju Maharaj, who named Nag’s fledgling school Tarangini in 1992. Maharaj is a seventh generation artist of the Lucknow gharana of kathak. His ancestors danced in the courts of the last Mughal emperor in the city of Lucknow until the 19th century. Nag inherited this lineage, also studying with an impressive list of list of teachers during her training in India. At 13 she passed the Nritya Prabhakar with distinction and placed first in the Pashchim Banga Nikhil Bharatiyo Competition. Since she was young she has devoted her life to dance. “I went into dance and never looked back. Nothing came between me and my dance. Nothing,” says Nag.
“I always dance; the creativity is so healthy” says Nag, and her deep passion and creativity when it comes to dance is reflected in the development of her upcoming performance. The first portion of the performance is entitled Yatra, and is a journey through music from across the world. “I wanted to bring the world together through dance,” explains Nag and as a result she has drawn together a fascinating mix of classical music and folk. Sufi music featuring Kabir, Irish folk music, orchestral music from Tchaikovsky, and flamenco rubs shoulders with Chinese and Japanese music. This diversity forced Nag and her dancers to stretch their sense of rhythm. “This music does not have our typical beats of 8, 10, or 16. We kept the intonation but had to create a kathak influence” explains Nag. One of Nag’s dancers is an accomplished ballerina, and Nag carefully matched traditional kathak movements to ballet for the first half of the performance.
“For the second portion I added another emotion that’s not one of the usual nine emotions in kathak. I decided to add vatsalya, the love of a mother for her child” says Nag. “During the 14th through 17th centuries, a great Bhakti movement swept through central and northern India, initiated by a loosely associated group of sants. This is the period where Krishna’s mother’s love comes to predominate,” Nag explains as she describes how central mothers are to the emotional development of their children. The latter half of the performance traces rasas throughout Krishna’s life, focusing on Radha’s emotions. The piece begins with Krishna having just left Radha and Radha passing through adoration, anxiety, anger, repentance, and longing. Through this emotional transformation on stage, Radha eventually becomes Radhika, accepting Krishna’s nature and developing a saintly and divine love.
Nag will join her four senior dancers in portraying Radha in the second half of the performance, and her passion for depicting Radha’s emotional journey comes through as she talks about Radha’s internal dialogue throughout the course of the performance. “Krishna is always playful, but maybe he’s not coming… anxiety builds. Why isn’t he coming? And the whole night passes,” Nag narrates.
The performance is the culmination of 20 years of creativity, and also demonstrates the effortless love Nag has for her students. “My life is very full. I love them so much. Each one is different and each one has an individual place in my heart,” says Nag who will showcase all of her students in the first half of the performance.
“Seeing them grow and mature makes me so proud of them. Some of them have been with me for 20 years, and now I’m teaching their children. Really, it’s a blessing” reflects Nag. Despite her skill and creativity in dance, she also has a keen sense of childhood and adolescent development. “When they start with me they are scared. At 10 or 12 they start to push my buttons. At 14 and 15 there are lots of ups and downs. But then we become friends. And they keep coming back,” Nag says, noting that when her college students return, their parents will often come to her studio to find their daughters. “Rain or shine, didi is there” is what the students’ parents say about Nag. And rain or shine, didi is there, and she’s dancing.
Saturday, May 11, 5 p.m. Smithwick Theater, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos. Tickets start at $18. taranginikathak.brownpapertickets.com.