In the pandemonium of thoughtless speed,kathak of today seems to forget the gentle and the graceful nuances of bhaav and abhinaya. But then there are exponents like Shovana Narayan,who have upheld the art for the past four decades. While her mastery in technique and repertoire affirms her Lucknow gharana and training under Pandit Birju Maharaj,her choreography feels more organic than just sections thrown together. So when she announced a new production,the cultural circles discussed it in hushed awe.
Narayans latest,Tryst with the Past,is the story of Mughal princess Jahanara,Shah Jahans daughter,who takes over the Zenana Mahal after her mother Mumtaz Mahals death. Not allowed to marry,she later becomes a writer and a disciple of the Chishti saints.
On Wednesday,the setting at Kamani Auditorium seemed perfect,with tall towering columns on the sides,echoing Mughal architecture. Narayan opened the piece by narrating the basic story. The consistency of the production lay in two things Pandit Jwala Prasads music and Narayans presence on the stage. Zakia Zaheer,grand daughter of Urdu poet Haali,had scripted the show. The lighting by RK Dhingra,was brilliant. As for the supporting dancers,the female parts lacked finesse though the male dancers were emotionally charged,with gats and tihaais well-coordinated. Robust and diverse,the men commanded immense attention. They also received the maximum applause.
Narayan didnt use any rhythmic gimmickery,her expressions were as phenomenal as her pirouettes. While her interpretative ability dominated the performance,we waited for power,the intensified movement. This was to be translated through ghungroos; Narayan didnt use any.
The arts are and should not be bound by barriers (contemporary dancers do perform without ghungroos). But in traditional kathak,where footwork matched intricate tabla bols,it was rather odd for Narayan to perform without ghungroos. The virtuosity of her footwork could only be seen,not heard. It may be a matter of sacredness. For purists,it was about essentiality. Barring her portions of narrations,her dance sections against the backdrop of projections of Mughal forts and palaces required ghungroos. The narrative too needed tightening.