As we went to print, 16-year-old kathak dancer, Jaina Modasia, was to give her Manch Pravesh performance on 11 September. Jaina took time out during her intensive training schedule to talk about the experience.
There comes a time in a dancer’s training when acknowledgement is due – acknowledgement for their development and the journey taken to get to that point. For Jaina Modasia, the Manch Pravesh is almost like a coming of age, the moment of marking the twelve years of dedication to her dancing.
Jaina began kathak at the age of 4 with Pali Chandra but when Chandra relocated to Dubai, Jaina continued under Sujata Banerjee – with whom she has trained ever since. “At the age of 12 I realised how much I enjoyed kathak and thought of doing it more seriously. Several years later, my guru said that I should consider the Manch Pravesh in a year’s time. She explained the process…and the level of commitment required for such an event. I was very excited about the idea and my mother was very supportive too,” says Jaina. “I have been preparing for my Manch Pravesh for the last one and a half years – now it’s almost here!” she adds.
As one might imagine, the schedule in the run-up to a Manch Pravesh is one of great intensity and focus. Jaina describes this period as “a very educational experience” both for her and her family. As part of the preparation, Jaina and Sujata went to Kolkata where they met students, teachers and musicians that included Pandit Birju Mahraj and Saswati Sen.
“Didi always says that learning classical Indian dance is not just about dance – it is a complete education: understanding the cultural context, rituals, tameez (cultural etiquette), feeling the art form and seeing its place in India.” Jaina explains how the trip made an impact on her outlook to dance, she says: “…it made me realise how big the dance world really is and how the dance culture is very special to peoples’ daily life.” During the trip, Jaina trained with her guru and musicians in the mornings, which she combined with classes in body conditioning and yoga. “I saw a great change in my dance and fitness overall.”
Jaina has worked with tabla, and occasionally singers too, but she emphasises that working with a full team of musicians is a very different experience altogether. “It can be difficult at times but I enjoy it a lot as you can feel the music within your body when dancing – the dance movements become alive.” When asked about her performance repertoire, Jaina explains that her guru set the Manch Pravesh programme. “She had a picture of the whole evening. My presentation will have a bhajan, thumri or other abhinaya pieces as well as various taal rhythms.
Sujata Didi has composed a number of new rhythmic compositions in tintaal and dhamar and also created two special pieces for this: Krishna Katha which is about various stories of Krishna – from a child of Vrindaban to Krishna as a special friend of Draupadi of Mahabharat – and 9/11, a contemporary piece.” Jaina tells me that the latter is so named because of the date of her Manch Pravesh which Sujata referenced by setting the piece to an eleven-beat time cycle. “I am always inspired by Didi’s creative ideas and I am very excited about the chosen pieces. My mother was particularly happy when she heard that Didi had chosen a piece on Shiva.”
To say that the Manch Pravesh becomes a dancer’s top priority is something of an understatement and Jaina tells me of the sacrifices she had to make in order to dedicate herself to her training. “I had to sacrifice almost all of my summer holiday so that I could spend a lot of time dancing and very little time socialising.” But of course this level of dedication is rewarding in itself and Jaina has already gained confidence and knowledge of kathak throughout this long process.
Jaina has aspirations to become a choreographer one day and she says that: “…experiencing the process of new pieces being created on me will help me throughout my life.” Her guru, Sujata, has certainly enhanced her future ambitions, and her guidance has made the journey to the Manch Pravesh an enjoyable and memorable experience. “Didi always makes work interesting and fun so that I have learned to enjoy hard work…”