From the outside, the Bhavan Centre doesn’t seem like the most obvious place for a kathak recital but take a look inside and this former church in West Kensington becomes a gateway to the classical Indian arts. It is here that Sushmita Ghosh, one of New Delhi’s acclaimed kathak practitioners, will perform Paramaakriti. Ghosh is an artist who has collaborated with the likes of Nitin Sawhney and Nahid Siddiqui, and performed extensively in India and across Europe. On her brief visit to the UK, Ghosh returns to the Bhavan, a place where she was formerly resident kathak guru.
At first, Ghosh is heard but not seen. The stage is empty except for her musicians, led by Shiv Shankar Ray, who perform a mesmerising interlude. Standing in the wings, stage left, Ghosh begins a series of tatkar footwork, as indicated by the sound of her ghungaroo bells. This is, however, more than just going through the motions. In this moment, Ghosh adjusts to the first cycle of the evening, the sixteen-beat teental, preparing physically and mentally for the performance ahead. Later, while addressing her audience, she makes a comment that remains with me: “I hope you have all come here to watch the music and listen to the dance.” In one line Ghosh provides us with a signpost to the balanced relationship in kathak between music and dance – an illuminating moment.
Formalities aside, the performance truly begins. For the that, which is, primarily, an isolation of the wrists and torso, Ghosh brings fluidity and intricacy to the movement. There is warmth in her eyes, much like the striking oranges, golds and purples that surround her in costume and lighting. In the amad, there are new shapes, to me at least, such as the holding of the wrist which crosses the hands, deeper contractions in the torso, more inverted lines in the arms – all of which highlight the sum quite brilliantly because they seem to form so simply. In the gaze, too, Ghosh shows the complexity in the simplest of choreography by changing the direction of her focus to complete the cycle. These finishing touches, combined with the way that Ghosh remains in her performance, throughout, allow the movement to speak for itself and, further, make for an absorbing performance. She is invested in this performance mind, body and soul and, as she transcends to a spiritual plane, we are all invited to join her.
After several nritta sequences, it is a great moment to see Ghosh in a nritya composition. She triumphs with a well-developed abhinaya, setting the scene where one might forget their troubles under the cooling shade of a kadamba tree. Here, Ghosh is in touch with her emotions and, in doing so, is both honest with herself and her audience. After a short intermission, Ghosh reclaims her stage, setting the mood for a dynamic second half with her black and gold costume. Here she tackles late evening raags and complex rhythmical structures with sheer tour-de-force and the tarana, the evening’s final composition, shows technical mastery – she almost levitates through ferociously fast footwork.
Sushmita Ghosh awakens the senses with Paramaakriti, highlighting the contrasts of the kathak form. For every chakkadar spin, which she performs with great gusto, there is the soft rippling of mudras hand gestures. While Ghosh is playful – with her eyes, her tatkar (particularly in the jharti section) and her audience – asking them to share the cycle with her by keeping the pulse – she is ever poised and elegant. This is an experienced performer, well practised in her art, a sheer delight to watch.