By Farida Khanzada
When Aditi Bhagwat stepped on the stage for the first time, she was only five years old. Playing innocuous roles in her mother, classical danseuse Ragini Bhagwat’s dance troupe, the experience instilled confidence in her, so that when she faced the august gathering at Raj Bhavan when she was 16 years old, she had dignitaries, including the then Governor of Mumbai, P.C. Alexander spell-bound. “That performance made me realise my true calling,” says Aditi, who has embarked on a two and a half months tour of the US and Canada, under the aegis of Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing educational facilities and rural development in India.
With a troupe consisting of four musicians, a drummer, a sarangi player, a tabla player and singer, Aditi who is the producer as well as the creative director of the show, will be showcasing the entire journey of classical Hindustani music and kathak to its present role in mainstream cinema. “I have incorporated elements of folk, lavani and kathak. It’s a good combination of live music and dance, using audio-visual technology, giving the effect of doing footwork on stage, with the screen showing my performance. I will perform on Draupadi chirharan, Jatayumoksh besides other acts, involving the fusion of tabla and sarangi,” reveals Aditi.
Trained by Dr Rashul Kumarji and Nandita Puri in the Jaipur style of kathak, Aditi’s experiments with different dance forms began at an early age. A Maharashtrian, the tilt towards the popular folk dance form, lavani was natural, but taking it further, Aditi did not hesitate to give a kathak performance on jazz music. Her collaboration with jazz musician, Louis Banks also saw the birth of an unique style of composition, matching lavani steps with jazz tunes. They formed a band, Akriti which has been performing across the length and breadth of India and abroad for the past 10 years. “We have collaborated jazz music with lavani, using common elements, like jazz blue, baithakichi lavani, in which the dancer sits, using facial expressions during the performance. We have also done kathak-jazz fusion, sometimes adding elements of lavani too. This is when I started doing collaborative work, fusing various styles,” explains Aditi.
Using the innocuous ghungroo, “Jiska mahatva sirf ek adornment, ya part of a costume mana jaata hai, was used in rhythm with the beat of string instruments. That is when the idea of foot percussion came about and I sent a proposal to a fellowship programme initiated by the state department of the US called One Beat. In classical dance, our feet moves in rhythm with a tabla or a pakhwaj, in lavani we combine it with the dholki. So I used the sound of ghungroo to match the pace of drums; jaise ke taal vaadya ho vaise mein ghungroo ka istemal kiya,” explains Aditi. The trip also opened doors of future collaborations, working with musicians from Korea, Egypt, Venezuela. She created rhythm through footwork using her ghungroos in tune with string instruments like the cuatro (Venezulean guitar), created a sound quality that mesmerised the audience, who were unaware that the usual tabla and drum were not used. Her natural progression from classical dancer to lavani to a foot percussionist evolved from these collaborations. “I wanted to show this sargam through my dance. At times, I don’t follow the ghungroo, but the song, for instance, if there is a flute playing in the background then my movements move to the rhythm of the flute. I like to work with music and rhythm together, instead of just focussing on the beat,” says Aditi.
The Riturang Festival held on February 23 in Aurangabad, saw a jugalbandi of kathak and lavani. “Kathak ke bol hai, but bhav lavani ki body language mein dhala hai. It was a challenge since, classical ki bandish le ke chakradar ke bol, tarang ke bol maine lavani ki body language mein dhala hai. Gaano ke saath kathak ki nok jhok bhi hai,” says Aditi. The innovative danseuse has also used gypsy music during her kathak and flamenco performances. Drawing similarities between flamenco dance and kathak, Aditi says, “gypsy music has its roots in India. These are people who travelled to eastern parts of Europe, Spain, etc, that is why we find similarity between flamenco and kathak. Rajasthani kalbelia mein bhi bahut similarities milti hai.”
Closer home, Aditi has also popularised the dance form, laikari which she describes as following the rhythm of a heartbeat. “Between two beats you can fill it with different taals, harkates to compose a piece. It requires tremendous practise and sadhna to play around with rhythm. I hope, I will be able to master it in this life,” ends Aditi on an optimistic note.