Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A workshop with Kumudini Lakhia

I was lucky enough to take a kathak intensive workshop with Kumudini Lakhia, the mother of modern kathak dance, this past weekend.

Anamika-Navatman Intermediate Kathak Students + Prashant Shah! (I tried to find the group shot with Kumudini but couldn't)

It was absolutely incredible. Possibly one of the things I continue to feel surprised by - and also, on some level, completely expect - is that in the basics, dance technique across the board is fairly similar. There is no accepted dance where you can compress your spine, or not use your pelvis to create a turnout, or arch your back in a standing position.

What clicked from this particular workshop is that in dance, excess movement is never appreciated. While that may seem obvious in bharatanatyam, where the linear lines and strength convey that, you'd think the opposite with odissi and definitely kathak with its incredible soft (looking!), fluid, supple movements. Kumudini repeatedly emphasized solely moving the wrist from point A to point B with no extra openings, tweaks, etc. Even the hands were just these appendages that followed.  She went so far as to give us a math lesson. "What is the shortest distance between two points? A line! Don't add any thing else in!"

From working with Nrityagram (and following them for years now) and continuing work with kathak, the final word in all of it, regardless of what you are trying to convey to an audience (strength, severity, lightness, fluidity, happiness) you must whittle down your work to it's most basic ingredients. Like food, it in fact the simplest things that are the hardest to execute because of the required precision and control of body to perform them.

I'll leave you with the following:

Some lovely points Kumudini made, which I just wanted to share directly (making no comment on the truth of these):

"It is better to be a bad original than a perfect copy."

"What is the real difference between the dances of India? It is whether they are based on Krishna or Shiva." She went on to explain her theory - kathak, kuchipudi - these are based on the lightness of Krishna. Odissi, Bharatanatyam - within the strength of Shiva.  What was really interesting was the division has nothing to do with technique, simply the mood that the dance conveys.

There was a point, also, where she described her theory as to why the hands are where they are below in this common kathak pose:

Kumudini's opinion (which differed from that of her guru's and spoke that it was simply her interpretation, NOT right or wrong) was that the hand pointing upwards was the idea that kathak was infinite, like the sky it references. The hand pointing outwards, was to the horizon, always showing that there is more to learn, more to grow, more to explore.

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