Perhaps what you would remember best about Anjani Ambegaokar's Kathak dance would be her fantastic jam session in "Toda-tukra," a virtuoso display of rhythms and counter rhythms so complex that they would have gone right over most of our heads if she hadn't counted them out, then demonstrated them in an amazing interplay with Sattar Tari's magical tablas.
This was yet another display of the rhythmic sophistication that marks so much Middle Eastern and Oriental music and dance.Or maybe you would best recall the jingle of a hundred ankle bells and bare feet slapping against the floor with an impact as sharp and loud as a hollow handclap, in the distinctive footwork of Kathak, as rapid and intricate as flamenco. Or her amazing balletic turns; or hand and arm gestures, sometimes artful, sometimes strong and sharp; or the mobile, expressive face.
Whatever amazed her viewers most, they came away with a better understanding of India's "other" classical dance. In marked contrast to the formal, very stylized Bharata Natyam, Kathak has ease and expressiveness, narrative thrust, a more folklike quality, and allows each dancer's personality to shine through.
The opening invocation to the god Ganesh also immediately invoked the dignity of Kathak and its tradition, and a short demonstration displayed the basic vocabulary of this style, as Anjani chatted informally with the audience, explaining and amplifying the program notes. And the dance itself is a remarkably good vehicle for expressing emotion or carrying on narration.
Though only eight emotional states of a woman are definitely called for in "Ashta Nayika," Anjani ran through much more of a gamut in this seductive dance, in which she invited her man (or was it her muse?) to stay on for a few minutes and enjoy everything that could pass between them. Few could have resisted her subtle blandishments and potent charm.
In "Ghazal," Kavita Jain touchingly portrayed a wistful man-woman relationship of expectation and loss, as seen from the woman's point of view.
Vocalist Mala Ganguly kept the plaintive melismas of the accompanying music going in a thin, high voice, or sang a setting of poetic words, or sometimes broke into what seemed to be a popular song.
The narrative element was displayed in "Kalia Daman," in which Amrapali Ambegaokar and Kavita Jain sharply and cleanly enacted the triumph of the young god Krishna over wickedness and viciousness, personified as a snake.
Following Anjani's "Toda-tukra" all the dancers and musicians celebrated with "Jugalbandi," another virtuoso display with Anjani tossing out the rhythmic patterns and fancy footwork, the other dancers echoing them vigorously in a display of mounting pyrotechnics.
As you watch Kathak dance, it becomes apparent that there are many conventions, many standardized movements and poses, which comprise a distinctive vocabulary all its own; concentration must be complete to master its nuances and subtleties. But it's also clear that there is a lot of direct emotional communication and joy in dancing to be found in Kathak, which transcends technique, at least in Anjani's version.
Anjani's appearance here was sponsored by the India Forum of Utah and many private contributors.