Asian Music and Dance

Ritu Shringar

A couple of years before Pratap Pawar received his Padamshri award last year, he gave a performance at the Nehru Centre, at which he spoke of how he had recently overheard someone say that he should ‘stop dancing’, mostly because he was too old to perform. Even though he spoke of his refusal to hang-up his gungroos, his performance defined his relationship with dance: ‘til death do us part’.

Pawar’s recent work, ‘Ritu Shringar’ – ‘Seasons of Love’, collaboration with sitar maestro Gaurav Mazumdar, was humble and harmoniously uplifting; in which the dance and music artists performed generously and with a great sense of togetherness.

Musical accompaniment included Pt. Vishwa Prakash (vocals and harmonium), Sanju Sahai (tabla), Soumik Datta (sarod), Situ Kharel and Sujata Naphde (vocals), with a dance ensemble made up of several of Pawar’s students.

Mazumdar’s opening solo played to the heartstrings of courting hummingbirds racing and teasing each other as rain droplets cascaded over them.

Guessing that many of the audience had not experienced India’s six seasons: Grishma (Sun), Varsha (Rain/Monsoon), Sharat (Autumn), Shishir (extreme cold), Hemant (just before Spring) and Basant (Spring); yet each season’s moods were characterised as Pawar had lived them, sometimes too literally. However, watching the sharing joy of dance from a teacher with his students, the passion for their artistry is something to be commended.

Pawar’s improvisational play with Sahai gave the same adrenaline rush as a rollercoaster ride that you know you will queue up again for as the thrill shakes your heart. Pawar’s footwork, seen to be everything between the bolt of lightning to the muttering marching of ants; whilst his presence was still fitting for the mogul courts that kathak found prominence in.

Beyond this, Pawar’s performance evoked the question: what place does an ageing artist have within the aesthetical principles of Indian classical dance where, like other classical forms, the emphasis and appreciation of the beautiful human form and expression is mostly through youth.

There was something more profound in Pawar’s dance which stood out and came to realisation afterwards (mainly for me): to see the many years of movement, and expression and energy, and the passion of one person who simply loves to dance – even when he became breathless or slightly off-balance towards the end of a series of chakras, or letting the tired spirit of once-fine-lines be.

Pawar’s students, notably Crishna Budhu and Neesha Radia, performed with finesse and grace, and alongside their teacher and accompaniment, the melting energies from movement and music pushed through Bhavan’s old church glass ceiling.

One piece in particular, Shishir, took the attention away from kathak’s usual vertical sensuality and touched a more serious tone, the loneliness of ageing of the human condition. Under bleak lighting Pawar wrapped himself with a shawl and slowly took to the floor to show “the suffering that an elderly person experiences in the cold … and their eventual death”. This literal translation seemed odd when everything else seemed … so kathak. However, it gave more to the dance than makes a dancer, it showed a man knowing his inevitable truth.



Join the weekly Pulse newsletter and we will send you the latest news and articles straight to your inbox