Through light, sound, and vibrant dance movements, Kathak exponent, Aditi Mangaldas and her group, produced a new type of performance that was elevating to watch
By Shevlin Sebastian
Aditi Mangaldas turns around in circles from one side of the stage to the other. Then she goes down on her knees, at the edge of the stage, looks ceiling-ward, and says a poem by Meerabhai, “I seek the beloved. His beautiful body is covered in jewels that strike me like lightning. I am engulfed by him. I have become one with him... so what if people think I have lost my way.”
The four women dancers come forward, then go backwards, in a delicate play of light, movement and sound, especially that of ghungroos, that has a mesmerising effect. But when the male dancers join in, the movements become fast, and physically intense, with leaps, swivels and pirouetting at high speeds.
“When you have to express abstractions you have to show it with physicality,” says Aditi. “Earlier, dance was performed in enclosed environments like a temple or a Mughal court. So, the physical aspect was not that important. You only needed delicate steps. But now, on stage, the distance from the audience has increased, so we have to do a lot of dynamic movements to project the meaning of the dance.”
Apart from the movements, the lights play up the mood ever so delicately. So, when the dancers initially come on stage, it is dark, but they hold lamps near their faces.
“The type of lights that are used is very important,” says Aditi. “If the scene is expressing a spiritual search, how do you show it with light? It cannot be flashing lights. We are not a rock concert. It has to be done in a subtle way. You have to think: 'What can I do here which will enhance the texture of the scene?'”
For this Aditi has taken the help of talented international light designers like Fabiana Piccioli and Sander Loonen. “It is so important to collaborate with people of high calibre, especially if you want to grow and evolve,” she says. For the music, she has worked closely with singer Shubha Mudgal.
The programme, ‘Uncharted Seas’, at the JT Performing Arts Centre at Kochi, is all about a spiritual search. As Aditi says: “Don't we wonder sometimes when we are standing outside and looking at the stars, where we are in the universe? What is our existence like? What are we searching for? Is there some higher energy? Is there something beyond?”
And she quotes from her favourite philosopher, J. Krishnamurti: ‘We look for fixed points, but there are none, either in ourselves or outside in the universe.’ Incidentally, Aditi’s grandmother, Nandini Mehta, was a close associate of Krishnamurthi, while her aunt, Pupul Jayakar, wrote the definitive biography of the acclaimed thinker.
At the recital, Aditi led from the front, with beautiful and intense dance movements. It does come as a surprise to realise that she is in her early fifties and matching, or probably surpassing, colleagues half her age.
“Dance is a passion for me,” she says. “I keep fit by training in Kalaripayattu, by doing yoga, eating the right food, and going to the gym. In a way, I am training like an athlete.”
And it is non-stop training for her. “You have to do your riyaaz every day and be immersed in dance with your body, mind, heart and emotions,” says Aditi. “You have to do it with joy, dedication, and passion.”
Aditi has been doing this since the time she was five years old when she began training under Kathak exponent Kumudini Lakhia. She was with her teacher for fifteen years. After a while she felt that there was something within her that was not dancing and felt the need to go to the classical roots of Kathak. So, she became a dancer with Pandit Birju Maharaj. “It was a magical experience,” says Aditi. “Panditji is a great guru. He taught me how to centre the energy within myself.”
A few years later, Aditi decided to strike out on her own. And that was when she set up her dance academy called Drishtikon ('Viewpoint'). To select her dancers, Aditi looks for creative spirits who are technically proficient. “Only they can embody my dance philosophy,” she says. “What I am trying to do is an exploration. If you take the seed of Kathak, and water it with a contemporary sensibility, you get something new.”
(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)