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Rhythm divine

California-based Kathak artiste Seibi Lee brings to life a stirring scene from The Ramayana for her first solo in India

Seibi Lee rehearses before the show. Pic/PRADEEP DHIVAR

A soulful jugalbandi of the sitar, harmonium and tabla welcomes us as we enter an apartment in the Nepean Sea Road neighbourhood of the city. In nimble but powerful movements, kathak artiste Seibi Lee glides across the floor, and when a moment to pause arrives, she greets us with a warm namaste. The 52-year-old artiste from California is in the middle of a rehearsal, where she is performing the dramatic scene of Sita Haran from the Ramayana. With rhythmic transitions, and a swift change of stance and expression, she portrays the characters involved in the scene — the golden deer, Sita, Ravana, Rama and Lakshman — all by herself. The sequence is a part of Lee’s first solo in India to be performed this evening in Mumbai.

Seibi Lee rehearses before the show. Pic/PRADEEP DHIVAR

A disciple of the renowned Kathak guru, the late Pandit Chitresh Das, for over two decades, Lee is dean of the Chhandam School of Kathak in California. A professional harpist, Lee came across a Kathak performance by one of Pandit Das’s former students when she was learning music in Toronto. “It was the first time I was seeing the dance form, and I was mesmerised,” Lee recalls. She instantly signed up for an intensive Kathak class by Pandit Das when she learnt that Joanna deSouza, another former student of his, had invited him to Toronto. “After the class, I learnt Kathak from Joanna di for three years. And then in 1997, I moved to California to train under guruji,” she adds. deSouza, who is also in town with Lee, and Seema Mehta — who helms Chhandam Nritya Bharati in Mumbai and is hosting her seniors here — represent three generations of Pandit Das’s students.

The trio agrees that getting into a pretty anarkali and the artistic neck movements are only a small part of the process. “There are so many aspects to this dance form that nobody walks into a Kathak class perfect. Some have the gift of stamina, but need to work on being graceful, or the other way round. On top of it all, there is gatbhav (storytelling), where you are not allowed to choose one character. You have to play them all,” shares Lee, who has also portrayed the characters of Manthara, Vishwamitra, Mareech, and will soon be portraying Hanuman in the upcoming production, Son of the Wind.

Her performance today will begin with Ganpati Vandana, and she will be accompanied by Jayanta Banerjee on the sitar, Vaibhav Mankad on vocals and the harmonium, and Satyaprakash on the tabla. Though her training as a harpist helped her in her journey as a dancer, and vice versa, about five years ago, Lee decided to let go of the former as a professional. “What is the regret when one is able to concentrate on Kathak?” she sums up with a smile.

ON: Today, 7 pm
AT: Godrej Dance Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
LOG ON TO: www.bookmyshow.com
CALL: 22824567
COST: Rs 500

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