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RETURN a rediscovery of Kathak
Where does dance begin?
Where does it lead?
What is its purpose?

Directorial Musings

The process of creating Return saw us spend session after session asking ourselves what is was we wanted to dance, why it was we wanted to dance. Literally returning to creating a duet piece after ten years, we wanted to tread carefully and specifically. The questions soon became more analytical about why we dance at all, what dance means to us, what dance offered as a form of expression, and the apparently changing face of how dance is performed and perceived today. Does dance enshrine a philosophy, an approach to life, an acknowledgement of something bigger than ourselves? Has dance become more about technique, form and virtuosic skill and less about an uplifting human experience? In the quest to conquer the externals of dance, do we let the spirit get away? Where does dance begin and where does it lead? What is it’s purpose – entertainment, enlightenment, enchantment … all of that and more?

We were playing with rhythms, abstractions, various music tracks trying to find inspiration. Wandering through several nebulous pathways and dim possibilities, we found ourselves drawn to some very specific vocal music impulses, all of which were tremendously classical in approach, treatment and performance. Each one seemed a pure expression and exploration of one particular and personal idea emerging from the singer. Somehow this abstract particularity led us to re-examine and rediscover each and every small nuance of Kathak that we today take for granted – so much so that many of them are not even performed any more. Living in a world of large pictures and instant entertainment, the subtle, the internalised, a slow flowering of ideas and images can seem rather passé. Indeed, how much of dance today is about an internal experience – both for the performer and the audience? A rediscovery of what dance – specifically Indian classical dance – stands for seemed the road to walk down.

Guided invisibly by these inspirational and deeply moving music pieces, we were led backwards into the vast storehouse of Kathak finding gems we had forgotten all about along the way – little jewels rarely brought out of the dusty, yet living, museum of Kathak, precious stones which shyly and / or graciously revealed themselves to a gentler, humbler enquiry on our part. The attempt for us became to realign ourselves – so to speak – with a dance that magnanimously allows us to enter and experience all that it offers, rather than a dance that we have mastered, leashed and wrought into a series of astonishing skilled circus acts. Artists surrender to art and are therefore able to enter and discover it from within. Mere mastery subjugates art: it cannot then envelop the artist.

We thought of what Saraswati stands for – not as any religious association, but as a concept. What does she embody for art, for artists? How does one approach her, get to know her – by chasing her relentlessly or by opening our minds and hearts and allowing her in with humility, respect and the desire to serve? We serve her, she does not serve us. And once we yield to art, we make – or re-make – the most amazing discoveries. The attempt in Return has been to reflect this journey back to an essence.

Musically each piece we chose inspired us to focus on a very specific aspect of Kathak, really try and zoom into its possibilities in various ways – slowness of pace, subtle grace, the awareness of sound and rhythm, the development of abstract pure dance, the stories one can tell with and within one single line from a lyric… all leading coming together in a celebration of Kathak. Again, musically we have tried to give each instrument its due, discovering what it contributes to the music and the dance in this return to a space and spirit we should never have left.

Vikram Iyengar
Debashree Bhattacharya
[from the premiere brochure: May 2011]

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