A full house at the Nehru Centre saw a beautifully presented kathak performance – Seeking to Embody – by Sanjukta Wagh. Hailing from Mumbai, Wagh is currently a scholarship student at Laban where she has undertaken a Dance Studies diploma. Her CV in the Nehru Centre calendar of events promised more than a straightforward performance of kathak. She lived up to the promise and the audience left with a rich and multi-layered experience.
The evening began with a display of kathak repertoire passed down the generations by great kathak maestros through the oral tradition. Shiva Stuti celebrated the various forms of Lord Shiva – the third embodiment of the Hindu Trinity. With an articulate body and expressive eyes, Wagh succeeded in capturing the beauty and power of Shiva’s forms of the ascetic, the dancer, the ardh-nareshwar and others.
Trained in kathak with Guru Rajashri Shirke, in the following nritta (pure dance) sequence Embodying Time Wagh presented a mixture of traditional compositions from the Lucknow, Jaipur and Benares gharanas in teentaal (rhythmic cycle of sixteen beats). Her body spoke eloquently; her torso beautifully elongated. Her sharp, neat movements and clear, crisp footwork were a pleasure to watch. It was unfortunate that many times the ‘sum’ (the first beat of the time cycle and the final pose at the end of a composition) did not have the same sharpness and focus and felt a little shaky. The feeling of effortlessness and abandon as embodied in the sum was often missing. She needs to ‘give it all’ to enhance the quality of a performance so full of energy, grace and finesse.
In the final item Wagh’s creativity was greatly in evidence. The Woman encapsulated the character of two women, one traditional and the other modern. The dancer portrayed Radha through a thumri by Maharaj Bindadin, with a blend of dignity and sensuousness characteristic of the nayika (heroine). The modern woman was interpreted through the text of a poem For colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf [sic] by the African-American poet Ntozake Shange.
In this piece, Wagh played the character of a complex woman through recitation, dance and music. It is tempting to classify the character as one of the archetypal nayikas as identified in the Natya Shastra – perhaps a Pragalbha who is an expert in the art of decorating and experienced in love games. Yet the character defies being labelled. An effective storyteller, Wagh’s bold attempt at showing sexual movements on the stage must have ruffled a few feathers, but it demonstrated how dancers are breaking boundaries in search of bringing realism on the stage.
Sanjukta Wagh is a dancer whose development should be watched with great interest.