Tapping into kathak

Updated: Feb 20, 2019, 08:34 IST | Snigdha Hassan | Mumbai

A performance celebrates the universal language of rhythm by bringing together Indian classical with tap dance

Kathak artistes Rachna Nivas (left) and Rina Mehta, and tap dancers Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards (left) and Michelle Dorrance in performance
Kathak artistes Rachna Nivas (left) and Rina Mehta, and tap dancers Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards (left) and Michelle Dorrance in performance

It all began in 2004 when the late Pandit Chitresh Das, credited with having played an instrumental role in taking kathak to the US and establishing it amongst the Indian diaspora there, joined hands with Emmy-winning tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith. The result was a collaborative performance, India Jazz Suites, which paved the way for artistes practising the two dance forms, continents and ages apart, to unite to celebrate them in the years to come.

Speak – Rhythm in Feet is a performance that carries forward the legacy of Pandit Das, and iconic tap dancers Dr Jimmy Slyde and James Buster Brown. Choreographed by Rina Mehta and Rachna Nivas — disciples of the former and founders of Los Angeles-based Leela Dance Collective — and acclaimed international tap dancers Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, it premiered in San Francisco in 2017. On its maiden tour of India, it will debut in Mumbai tonight, followed by shows in Kolkata and Gurugram.

Edwards and Dorrance perform to the beats of the tabla and drums

"Rhythm, music and dance are universal languages. So, we share a lot of common ground, which allowed us to create a performance of this kind. Also, both Pandit Das and Jason Samuels Smith were keen on seeing women artistes come to the forefront; something we felt strongly about, too," Mehta tells us, before heading to a rehearsal in Andheri. She adds that they are particular about not calling this a fusion performance."It is not a gimmick. The idea is to let the two dance styles come together, but stay true to their essence," says Mehta.

Dorrance shares that though rhythm reigns supreme in kathak and tap dance; their time signatures — notations to specify the number of beats contained in each measure — vary. "One of the compositions sits inside a time signature that has nine and a half beats. I have never tried this in tap dance," she says. These challenges, however, have long been overcome. For, one of the highlights of the show is a "sawaal jawaab with tap and tabla", where Dorrance and Edwards respond to the beats of the tabla with corresponding tap footwork. The sitar, piano, bass and drums are the other musical accompaniments.

In this coming together of the similarities and differences between kathak and tap dance, however, there is a deeper message. "The world is becoming increasingly polarised. But we feel that what makes it a beautiful place is this diversity, of people and art forms. The way we could come together is to find a common ground, and celebrate what makes us unique at the same time."

ON Tonight, 7 pm
AT Royal Opera House, Mama Paramanand Marg, Girgaum 
LOG ON TO bookmyshow.com
Entry Rs 300 onwards

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