Avartan was this year’s annual showcase by students of kathak teacher Abhay Shankar Mishra, offering a diverse collection of group choreography from classical to folk and Bollywood-influenced work. Abhay Shankar Mishra succeeded in producing an engaging programme that exploited students talent at all levels of experience and entertained full audiences over two evenings at the Bharitya Vidya Bhavan – where he has been resident kathak teacher for several years.
With fifty-six dancers and twelve items – mostly choreographed by Mishra himself – Avartan was a major undertaking both creatively and logistically. I was struck by the sense of professionalism conveyed by well-rehearsed performances and the smooth running of the programme. The dancers showed clarity of placement and use of focus that brought unity to the group, suggesting that attention to detail is part of their training.
Abhay Shankar Mishra has great skill for movement invention with a vast source of movement vocabulary from his training in all three of the major kathak gharanas. This was illustrated by six of his senior students who in pairs, explained and aptly demonstrated the characteristics of each tradition before congregating to blend all three in Sangam. The composure of these dancers was impressive as they displayed grounded maturity in their taat, neat chakkars and elegant articulation of the wrists. It was pleasing to see excitement and passion peek through as they attacked faster sections, although the music volume was too high to appreciate the sound of their footwork.
Another highlight of the programme was Kalia Mardan featuring Amy Patel as a suitably cheeky Krishna accompanied by younger students who approached this piece with energy and commitment – no mean feat for young girls portraying Krishna’s boyhood companions and the fierce snake Kaliya. The choreography of this piece was dynamic and playful and the movement around the stage added to the drama. More inventive use of space is something I felt could enhance a few of the other group compositions, in which dancers were bound to small areas in long sections of unison, compounded at times by the stage being slightly overcrowded – always a danger when there are so many dancers to showcase.
One piece that was a hit with the audience and demonstrated kathak’s ability to fuse devotion with display was Bramha Nanda. Beginning with a shlok, the dancers transitioned from a serene tableaux into a group sequence with energetic use of canon as the heavy beat and atmospheric bass line of the music built up. The reaching of the dancers’ hastas, their smiles and the occasional swaying hip made the joy of their dancing infectious and there were cheers from the audience as the piece came to a conclusion with dervish-like spinning. The class demonstration by the youngest students provoked another audience reaction – of maternal sighs this time – the group was led through basic technique by their teacher who accompanied them on the tabla. It was encouraging to see such young dancers being given performance experience and working with live percussion from the outset.
Overrunning by an hour is a lot by any standards, but despite this I left the Bhavan greatly encouraged by an evening that displayed the energy of so many students supported by a creative and committed teacher whose warmth and pride in their achievement was evident.