The Tarangini School of Kathak Dance enthralled a jam-packed audience yet again with presentations from its diverse and innovative repertoire, leaving spectators asking for more.
Choreographed by Indian American artistic director Anuradha Nag and performed over two days, May 18-19 at the Smithwick Theatre in Los Altos Hills, Calif., Tarangini’s biennial production, “Smriti Maalika,” mesmerized the audience with students of all ages performing the various ‘taals’ and ‘layas’ gracefully, and to perfection.
As the name suggests, the “garland of memories” was a perfect homage and tribute to the gurus of Tarangini’s founder and artistic director, Nag, a disciple of leading Kathak exponents Padmavibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj and Pandit Vijai Shankar.
While this show was first conceived with the intention of highlighting Nag’s creative work over the years (the school will mark its 27th anniversary this fall), it truly became a tribute as Pandit Vijai Shankar passed away March 17. A senior-most disciple of Padmavibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj, the late Pandit Vijai Shankar was an icon of the Kathak scene in Bengal and a beloved mentor to Nag.
Each day of performances opened with speeches given by senior artists Ravi Gutala and Pandit Binay Pathak, giving their praises and wishes to Nag and her students. Her senior-most shishyas (disciples), Sonia Mann Qureshi and Shilpi Verma, also spoke about their beautiful Kathak journey and growth as artists through the guidance of their beloved guru. With around 250 students performing over the two days, Nag’s dedication as a teacher and the purity of the dance form ingrained in each of the students was evident on stage.
Tarangini students performed pieces from past productions in a medley that showcased the stunning variety of Nag’s repertoire. In 2015, the school presented “Ragangikam,” giving the audience flavors of the ragas of Hindustani classical music set to various rhythmic cycles. One of the items revived in “Smriti Maalika” was a Krishna Vandana in raga Yaman, set to a difficult ‘jhaptaal ‘and composed by Padmavibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj.
Other elements of the garland of memories came from the school’s 2013 production, “Yatra: Kathak’s Journey Through World Music.” Nag artistically tied melodies and beats from various musical traditions, including Sufi, Irish and Japanese to Kathak — proving time and again that music and art cannot be limited by geographic boundaries.
Pieces from the 2011 production, “Kathak Through Bollywood Lane,” were also presented, depicting the grace of Kathak through melodious songs from Hindi films. The audience saw a glimpse from Tarangini’s 2008 production, “Jeevandhara,” through a musical rendition of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem on the wonders of nature, “Akash Bhora, Surjo Tara.”
On both days, Tarangini’s 2006 production, “Chitrangshu,” was featured with a piece titled, “Khoj” (to search). This choreography has, over the years, become a signature piece and favorite of Nag’s choreography, and was performed beautifully by her senior students. The student performances concluded with the most beautiful homage to the late Pandit Vijai Shankar in the form of “Sarang.” A popular piece composed by Panditji himself, this fast-paced musical item showcased the technical aspect of Kathak.
The grand finale and the most-awaited performance was by Nag herself, who presented a “khayal ang” composition, “Room Jhoom Badarwa Barase,” originally composed by Nawab Mohammad Shah and choreographed by Pt. Vijai Shankar. The ‘viraha ras,’ translated as the emotion of longing and yearning of separated lovers, was depicted soulfully by Nag. Her expressions, feeling and footwork brought the lonely heroine to life.
All in all, “Smriti Maalika” was a memorable weekend, where the audience felt the presence of all the gurus of Tarangini in the moment. The art of Kathak is in safe hands and future of Kathak looks bright through the efforts of Nag and her students.