What could be a more fitting tribute to a performer whose love and passion for dance remain undimmed after fifty-five years at the game, than to mark a milestone birthday by dancing? That very occasion arose for Padmashri Pratap Pawar who performed to an audience of adoring colleagues, family and friends at the Nehru Centre on Tuesday 22 May. The event had been arranged by Pratapji’s students who wanted to honour their Guru’s formidable qualities as a kathak artist and, with all the seats taken and the aisles overflowing, there was certainly a high level of interest in this performance.
The opening speeches and messages to the maestro came from legendary artists such as Asha Bhonsle, Lata Mangeshwar and Amjad Ali Khan. Akram Khan, Pratapji’s most renowned student, gave a heartfelt tribute, describing the deep and intimate relationship between a teacher and student as being the nearest thing to ‘sacred’ in his life. Akram recounted a life-changing anecdote of receiving a massive ‘slap’ from his Guru when as a young teen he used lies to cover up his embarrassment. “Wisdom and violence can come from the same source,” he noted.
At last the talking was over and the dance could begin. Dressed in a pale green achkan with multiple-layered pearl necklace, Pratapji took the opening stance, in the that and amad. The vilambit (slow) section used deep body bends, graceful movements of wrist, neck and eyebrow. Although he had prefaced his performance by acknowledging his age, almost immediately Pratapji was engaged in quick-fire tatkar (footwork). Over the next forty-five minutes Pratapji gave a balanced and engaging performance: a satisfying mixture of tukras and torahs, thunderous parans, delicate gat, precise chakkars. Pratapji even offered to follow Sanju Sahai’s tabla rather than the more conventional dancer-leads-musician relationship and when he challenged the tabla player there was a moment of indignation from the audience that with a tabla player half his age this was not a ‘level playing field’. However, the dancer stood his ground.
For the abhinaya section Pratapji performed a ghazal named Chandini Doobjai, Moonlight vanishes when you leave, the Door remains ajar, a classic piece rendered beautifully by vocalist Vishwa Prakash to santoor accompaniment of Kiranpal Singh and performed with great dignity and depth. Lastly a duet between Pratapji and Yuanna Carlos flamenco performer was greeted with whoops of pleasure. The meeting of the singers from the two traditions was another highlight of the evening. Kathak as flamenco reignites with live music; perhaps this is the art form’s true heart.
The lesson of the evening was that talent alone will not ensure an artist’s success but the lagan (steadfastness) that they use to approach their profession. Dance is not for the faint-hearted – thank you, Pratap Pawar, for your 200 per cent belief in yourself.