Monday, May 12, 2014

Touching the Soul

Dancer Shoma Kaikini, along with her troupe, 'Nrityanidhi', combines Sufi with Kathak movements to uplift an audience

By Shevlin Sebastian

When dancer Shoma Kaikini went to Nanning, China, to perform in the International Folk Song Art Festival, a few years ago, she felt arrogant. “Our culture was thousands of years old,” she says. “I felt we are the best.” But there were participants from 36 countries including Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Australia, Indonesia, France, Denmark and Argentina. “When I saw the performances of the other countries, I fell flat on my face,” she says. “That was when I realised that the world is filled with so much of art and culture.”

Nevertheless, her Mumbai-based troupe, 'Nrityanidhi', did impress. On the last day, when they stepped out on the stage, the participants of all the countries stood in the wings to watch them perform. “This happened only to us,” says Shoma. And their performance received the maximum applause.

One of the reasons was because of the colourful costumes. “The people loved the jewellery, make-up and hair,” she says. “The audience, which was mostly Chinese, would indicate, through sign language, that they loved our performance. There were tears in their eyes. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.”

The Nrityanidhi troupe plays a mix of Sufi, Bharatanatyam and Kathak dances, accompanied by soft, meditative and soulful songs.

When I listen to a song, I allow the movement to flow into the dance,” says Shoma, who is the troupe's choreographer. “I tell the dancers that choreography and dance are something that flows from the spirit.”

Shoma and her troupe had recently come to Kochi to give a performance called 'Asmi' ('I am' in Sanskrit) – A Voyage Towards The Self', in which they did dances with a mix of Sufi and Kathak.

The core of Sufism is a never-ending search of the truth, of divine energy,” says Shoma. “In Sufism, you experience a total surrender to God.”

But they danced to songs from contemporary films like 'Maula Mere' from the film, 'Anwar' and 'Iktara' from 'Wake up Sid'. And it turned out to be soulful and tranquility-inducing: the gentle movements of the arms, taking a few steps forward, then back, the pirouetting with other partners, and the playful looks on the faces.

People are under so much stress and strain that our performance gives some kind of peace to them,” says Shoma. Recently, when they performed at Bangalore, a woman came up to Shoma, and said, “It felt like as if your soul had come out of the body, and was travelling among the audience. That was the kind of energy we felt.”

At Kochi, audience member Dr. Puneet Dhar says, “It was a reinvention of Kathak. I have always watched Kathak dances along with live music. This was the first time recorded music was used, but since the acoustics was superb, nothing was missed. I also enjoyed the unusual combination of Sufi and Kathak. The secular mix was heart-warming.”

To have this kind of impact has taken Shoma years of training. She learnt dance from the time she was four years old, thanks to the prodding from her mother. Initially, she learnt Kathak, then Bharatnatyam, and then she returned to Kathak by the time she was 17. For a few years, she performed with her guru Nandita Puri, a Kathak exponent. It was in 2005 that she began Nrityanidhi. “It had been my dream to start something on my own,” she says. This has turned out to be the right move, as 'Nrityanidhi' continues to impact audiences all over. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

No comments:

Post a Comment