July 19, 2009 12:15:31 am
Thirty years is an important milestone,especially for a Kathak dance school. For one,there are looming signs that youngsters dont find the classical arts cool anymore; for another,its hardly lucrative to be a non-Bollywood dancer. So its interesting that Asavari,the institute started by dancer Shovana Narayan in 1979,holds its birthday celebrations with an upbeat smile. All 50 seats in the institute are taken and a large proportion of the students are teenagers practising their first steps.
I have put my career on hold to pursue Kathak, says Shivani Salhotra,a 26-year-old lawyer. One day,when I have grasped the intricacies of Kathak,I will don my black gown to resume my law practice. Thats what Asavari does to its students. It makes dance fascinating and addictive.
Asavari started with two students when Narayan was still a young dancer,and word of mouth references brought in new faces every week. Named after a morning raga,the classes are still held in Narayans house on Pandara Road as the dancer says that she never saw the need to build a separate school. I always believed that an institution is made up of its students,not brick and mortar, she says,as she rattles off the names of students who are now professional dancers in their own right.
Though students are never tested for dedication, Narayan has sometimes scheduled classes at ungodly hours like 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. And every time,despite their late nights and parties,the students are here on time,ready to show their mudra and abhinaya.
Among the senior students is Madhura Phatak,who has performed in Austria,Germany,Switzerland and Alaska besides major cities in India. I remember the time I had hurt my ankle and Shovana didi insisted that I follow the footwork while sitting. On the day of the show,she put me on stage. It was the scariest moment of my life and a life-defining one. I danced my best that day,and till today I feel that if my guru has faith in me,I can take on anything.
Asavari has taken other risks tootackling unconventional subjects that could have rubbed purists the wrong way. In 1993,in the very drawing room where students practice for the 30th anniversary celebrations today,another set of youngsters decided to present a piece based on the burning issue of the day,a case of incest in which the alleged offender was given a clean chit by the court.
It was a story of a little girl being abused by her father,but we told it from the mothers perspective. The piece called Toota Yeh Vishwas Kyun? was staged at a Kathak Mahotsav,a gathering of Kathak purists. We were apprehensive about creating a controversy at a hallowed festival,but the audience reaction stunned us,people were so touched that many were crying, recalls Narayan. Phatak has turned a teacher herself,holding sessions for special and underprivileged girls and boys.
Asavaris legacy is in safe hands.
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