Please do not be deceived. This is not a learned treatise on the classical dances of India. I am least qualified to write one. I have not learnt any classical dance so far in my life. I am only a keen follower and avid fan of these dances and what I have written is based purely on my individual observation. Rest assured that I am not out to disparage any particular branch of dance.
All I know is that all the main streams Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak, Manipuri and Mohiniattam trace their origin to the Natyashastra of Bharata muni. It is said that different regions adapted different styles depending on their natural characteristics. While some chose active style like Kuchipudi and Kathak, some others chose a languorous style like Manipuri and Mohini attam.
Each dance has its own typical costume. South Indian dances have neatly pinned hair style and tailored costumes made out of Kanjeevaram silk with hardly any risk of wardrobe malfunctioning with traditional jewelry. Odissi dancers whose elaborate hairstyle and costume have not undergone any change over the years sport Orissa silk or handloom sarees tied neatly. These saris hardly come in the way of their sensuous dance movements. It is so cute to watch little girls clad in sarees doing gymnastic formations as part of their odissi dance.
The lehangas and odnis of Kathak danseuses are made mostly of diaphanous material. Not much attention is given to their hair dos except weaving a hairpiece into their short plaits ending with a bunch of tassels. Their makeup is quite loud in the beginning of the concert. But it undergoes a lot of deterioration during the dance. Their going to the mic every once in a while to explain and their vigorous jhatkas and matkas leave their body sweating heavily with truant strands of hair falling on the face and they get awfully short of breath while talking .
I saw the kathak concert given by the scion of a famous Kathak family in a recent dance festival on TV. It could hardly be called a concert in that there was no smooth flow in his dance. It was more like a demonstration class. He would breathlessly mutter something over the mic and repeat it through dance. While talking he would often touch his ears in respect for his guru, distracting the audience who were already undergoing a” rasabhanga”_ an interruption of the aesthetic tempo. His curly mop of hair had become a fiery mane by the end of the program. His profuse sweating and gasping breath resulted in a totally unattractive, ungainly stage presence taking away totally from the mystique of descending from a highly artistic family.
While this is the case with an experienced exponent, what to talk of little girls? As the girls dance their ‘chuttis’ (jewelry in the parting of hair) come askew. Once I saw a black hairpiece of a foreign girl doing kathak separating totally from her hair and the blond hair opening out fully. Thank God, the hairpiece did not fall down as it had been secured well into the waist band. Why does this happen only in the case of Kathak, while in Kuchipudi- an equally vigorous dance, not a strand of hair goes out of place and their makeup and costume remain spick and span till the end of the dance, even if the dancer happens to be a little girl.
Reforms are pervading all fields. For instance, I believe some are campaigning to stop the lip movement in Kuchipudi to the background music as it interferes with emoting. Similarly I feel, certain reforms could be brought about in the costumes and presentation of Kathak too, while maintaining the sanctity of the age old art. I loved the dresses and hairstyles of the dancers in Umrao jaan, Devdas etc though the purity of kathak is suspect in movies.
But, all said and done all I, a dance-challenged ‘rasika’ (spectator) ask for is a pleasant continuous aesthetic uninterrupted presentation with melodious music and with no malfunctioning of the hairstyle, jewelry, makeup and costume.
Am I asking for too much?