Asian Music and Dance

Utsāv: On the Auspicious Occasion of Guru Purnima – pt2

Utsāv part two was a solo presentation from a newcomer to the British South Asian dance scene: Natalia Hildner, an America-born Peruvian who embraced kathak at a young age under Guru Mekhala Natvar. Hildner furthered her training with Pandit Birju Maharaj when she moved to India aged 18. She currently works as a facilitator for Sujata Banerjee Dance Company, UK while pursuing an MA in South Asian dance studies at the University of Roehampton. 

She enters the stage like a draught of fresh breeze transforming the dull-lit theatre space of the Nehru Centre into a canvas portraying multiple shades of kathak. The movement of her wrist resembles a falling petal, as she collects flowers to offer her obeisance to her teachers. Natalia Hildner commences the performance with a simple that, a small movement sequence with a short narrative element. Arching her back with a lazy sensuality with arms encircling the body like vines, the nasha, intoxication, in her gaze draws in the audience; even those who walk in late enter into her world. 

A melancholic ghazal, ‘Mohabbat karne wale kam na honge…’, is her next piece, which interplays earthly romance and mysticism in this love poem composed by the late Mehdi Hassan. As Anirban Bhattacharya sings beautifully to Chandrachur Bhattacharjee’s sitar accompaniment, Hildner takes a very contemporary approach to the choreography by journeying through different facets of love: conflict, romance, affection and empathy. Inspired by mystic poets of different religions, she enunciates the meaning of love beyond cultural differences.

Hildner continues the performance with a series of complex patterns of footwork, improvising eloquently on a lay, or speed, to Aniruddha Mukherjee’s tabla. She improvises on different taals, rhythm cycles, with flexible articulation of the wrists, precise pirouettes and seemingly effortless footwork. Kathak performers orally narrate and execute technique consecutively and, with an accurate pronunciation of rhythmic syllables, or bols, and elaborate translation of the poems and their contexts, Hildner’s words flowed as seamlessly as her dance itself.

The uniqueness of this damsel, and her Hispanic influence, surfaces during her presentation, for Hildner’s gaze speaks the language of a seductress of ‘La Marinera’, a dance form of South America, and her footwork has the oozing confidence of a flamenco dancer. She enunciates with ease, translating the stories of a different space and time through her body and movement. As Sujata Banerjee, the organiser of the evening commented, Natalia Hildner has all the right ingredients in the making of a perfect kathak dancer: khoobsoorat (beauty), nazakhat (grace), and tayyarri (perseverance).



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