Seats were filled for Kathak Utsav by Aparna's Dance Academy
On May 18, 2014, scores of graduation events were taking place around Atlanta; one of the most popular Hindi film singers, Sonu Nigam, was performing in Midtown Atlanta; and to top it all, an event called “Atlanta Street Alive” had closed Peachtree Street, which passes by the Alliance Theater of the Woodruff Arts Center, the venue for Kathak Utsav 2014, the 8th annual show of Aparna's Dance Academy.
With these odds, the obvious was expected: delays, confusion, and lower turnout of audience. Well, none of that happened. The audience packed the waiting area well before the show started, and when the doors opened, not a single seat remained unoccupied in the theater. Comments from the audience after the show sum it up: “As usual it was an awesome evening filled with outstanding performances, seamless coordination, and complete dedication.”
Students performed a large variety of Kathak dance items. The show started with Shiv Vandana, on the very soulful and deep voice of Pt. Jasraj. Choreography included Shiva poses, first displaying serenity and then emotions of aggression with high speed and energy. The young performers’ hard work showed; they had learned and practiced for months to perform on the stage.
Senior students performed on the classic Kathak theme, Radha and Krishna's love story. Music was from the song “Mai Radha teri” from the popular Hindi film, Vishwaroopam. This performance demonstrated nritya or storytelling with the use of expressions.
Aparna Sharma herself performed in the beginning, middle, and towards the end of the show, and coordinated backstage with students for their performances. Her boundless energy and knowledge of her craft shine in her performances, which provide an example of the beauty of Kathak, and what students can look forward to becoming as a performer themselves. Aparna performed taal and teen taal, including chala, thaat, Ganesh paran, kavit, thodas, parans, gatt nikas, gat bhav, and Jaipur-style fast chakkars. This is the pure and traditional form of Kathak. Music was composed by Aparna herself.
Aparna’s thumri was on a composition of Pt. Birju Maharaj. She choreographed the dance in her own Jaipur gharana style. Storytelling is the root of Kathak, although Kathak has evolved, storytelling is still essential. Kathakar or Kathak dancers play multiple roles, most often without using any props, and use their expression to display every small detail of the story. Thumri is a difficult part of Kathak. In this thumri, Aparna performed the roles of Radha, Krishna, Gopi, Gopika, telling the story of Holi played in Vrindavan. The story could be read in her expressions, when Aparna was enacting Krishna mischievously throwing colors on Radha, Radha getting upset, Radha doing sringar (make-up), Krishna mixing Holi color and ensuring it is strong, and so on. It is amazing to see that a short dance performance could be so rich in story. Aparna demonstrated the rich heritage she earned from her guru, Guru Rajender Gangani, perfected with decades of learning and practice.
Students performed on a variety of tarana (Kathak dance), rich Rajasthani folk dances, and selected Hindi film dances. A number of compositions were homegrown, by Aparna Sharma herself. The host of the evening, Kamal Mohanty, described the meaning and emotions of each dance, and the audience enjoyed clapping along with some of the beats.
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