If feet could speak, Pandit Chitresh Das could easily be credited with having mastered the language.
The Kathak maestro, who is known for his dynamic footwork, is all set to start a new conversation today, in Mumbai. Ever heard of Kathak being performed to the reverberating beats of mridangam and ghatam? Add to that the must-have accompaniments of tabla and pakhawaj. What results is a treat for those who believe that music has no boundaries of language or region.
The blending of Hindustani and Carnatic music for what is essentially a north Indian dance form is an experiment to discover the dynamism of Indian classical traditions. The brain behind the concept, called Dynamic Feet Dynamic Rhythm, is Das, who many would call the master of improvisation.
“Please don’t call it fusion,” says Das, who is affectionately called dadaji by younger artistes. But when a 66-year-old dancer makes younger percussionists struggle to keep up with him while he is moving across the stage with his ghungroo-clad bare feet, the last thing one can question is his faith in tradition.
Music talk: Chitresh Das will mix rhythms of the north and south for his show today.
Recently awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the Barack Obama administration, Das has been based in San Fransisco, US, for the last 40 years.
On this tour to India, he has paired with some of the top percussionists from the country for the show at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) today.
“I have danced with tap, flamenco and Congolese West African dance and drumming, Balinese Kecak and Kathakali in the past. They use their techniques and I use my Kathak techniques,” says Das, who has also invented Kathak Yoga, a technique where he dances, sings and plays an instrument at the same time.
Keeping taal (rhythm) on the tabla is Yogesh Samsi, whose 23 years of training with Ustad Alla Rakha Khan have helped him build a rare reputation as a soloist as well as accompanist. Samsi believes the concert is a confluence of rhythmic thought. “Dance ideas from the south will have to be imbibed into Kathak because the expression created by instruments like mridangam and ghatam are different,” says the percussionist, who has played with greats such as Pandit Birju Maharaj. So will he also have to play the tabla differently?
“Oh yes, there will be a compromise, but it is a healthy compromise. I will have to feel the energy of the south Indian artistes and catch their pulse,” Samsi adds.
Holding aloft the north Indian banner with him is one of the best-known pakhawaj players, Bhawani Shankar. Adding melody is sitar player Jayanta Banerjee, who has performed with Das several times, so he knows he must expect the unexpected.
“Panditji’s speciality is improvisation, jo hoga stage par hoga (whatever happens will be on stage),” says the young artiste. But the idea of upaj or improvisation takes on a different meaning when you realize that some of the artistes will meet each other for the first time on stage, performing live. Take, for example, N. Ramakrishnan, who will respond to the tabla-pakhawaj duo with his mridangam.
“I have only seen Panditiji on YouTube. He is spontaneous, so for me there will be no musical notes,” says Ramakrishnan, who has only accompanied Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancers earlier. Thrilled about this totally new challenge, Ramakrishnan says he will have to fall back on experience. He is looking forward to the unrehearsed jamming session between the diverse artistes, music that will create itself on stage before a 1,000-plus audience at the Tata Theatre, NCPA. As Samsi puts it, “Aesthetic unpredictability is lost when you rehearse together, and that is the essence of Indian classical tradition”.
So will there be subtle competition between the north and the south? The artistes believe it is more of a rhythmic discussion, a sharing of syllables. But no points for guessing what the high point of such a concert will be. Expect the “sawaal-jawaab”, which will mark the climax of the concert, to be a rapid fire between the artistes as they try to establish the supremacy of their own sound.
So while Das will pose teasers with his feet, each musician will reply with his instrument.
Who’ll win? Music, of course.
Dynamic Feet Dynamic Rhythm will take place at 7pm today, at the Tata Theatre, NCPA.
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