'Classical art is like a river that constantly rejuvenates': Aditi Mangaldas takes the stage with her celebrated production, Footprints on Water

Known for producing works that explore multiple abstract ideas, Mangaldas has always been on a quest to weave a tapestry of thoughts, ideas, textures, music, light, sound and stage that best bring about a seemingly vague concept

Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe October 20, 2019 13:45:04 IST
'Classical art is like a river that constantly rejuvenates': Aditi Mangaldas takes the stage with her celebrated production, Footprints on Water
  • Performance will be a sojourn through four seasons, varsha (monsoon), sharad (early autumn), hemant (late autumn) and shishir (winter)

  • As she progresses towards hemant, the compositions swerve towards the exploratory, with movements choreographed to the recitation of translated Haiku

  • The Sangeet Natak Academy awardee explains that one of the reasons behind producing such an interpretative performance was to shift from khula Kathak

Renowned choreographer, performer, and artiste Aditi Mangaldas is known as much for her mesmerising recitals as for her innovation and introduction of newer perspectives into the vocabulary of the traditional Kathak repertoire. With a career spanning over four decades, she is one of the few exponents in the country who owns and runs her own dance company; her grace, technique, and attention to detail making the Kathak dancer one of the most distinguished performers of the classical form.

On 20 October, 2019, she is set to take the stage at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai along with Kadamb, Mangaldas’ guru and Kathak stalwart Kumudini Lakhia’s dance troupe, to showcase one of her celebrated compositions, Footprints on Water, a journey through the ever-changing seasons.

Classical art is like a river that constantly rejuvenates Aditi Mangaldas takes the stage with her celebrated production Footprints on Water

Aditi Mangaldas' Footprints on Water first premiered in 1996. Image via Facebook

While Kadamb’s dance ensemble will be presenting Designs of Space and Time, Mangaldas’ performance will be a sojourn through four seasons, varsha (monsoon), sharad (early autumn), hemant (late autumn) and shishir (winter). First premiered in 1996, the production, according to Mangaldas, seeks to explore the transience of life as opposed to the sense of permanence that is generally associated with classical art.

As the name suggests, Footprints on Water captures the fleeting moments. “Try to put a footprint on water, but it will flow away,” Mangaldas suggests. The monsoon, for instance, draws a beautiful image in the mind but it is so transient such that the showers give way to the autumn winds, and one season morphs into another.

Created in collaboration with noted musician and composer Shubha Mudgal, the series first premiered in 1996. Like most of her works, Mangaldas notes, it is autobiographical because it is triggered from a point within her emotional state.

Her depiction of the monsoon and early autumn takes off from Kalidas’ poetry and verse in the Ritu Sanhar but further along, as she progresses towards hemant, the compositions swerve towards the exploratory and the two artists experiment with movements choreographed to the recitation of translated Haiku, the Japanese style of penning verses.

This poetry does not spell out the seasons, she remarks, reciting the line, “The leaf never knows which leaf will be the first to fall, does the wind know?” Rather, it is descriptive of nature’s mood during each passing season, picking up a philosophical and abstract strain leaving the audiences room for imagination.

The Sangeet Natak Academy awardee explains that one of the reasons behind producing such an interpretative performance was to shift from khula Kathak, an art of performance where everything is explained in its entirety. “Ye kamaal dekhiye,” (look at this style), “Iss dha ki position dekhiye,” (look at the position of this hand), “25 chakkar dekhiye.” (appreciate the 25 chakris) – is all a part of traditional performances that reinforce “the artist’s technical virtuosity over and over again.”

She elaborates that it was a suitable style in the durbar set-up, where Kathak was practised for decades and the artist was one of the gems of the court who needed to hold the monarch’s attention. Mangaldas, however, blends the narrative of the kathakaar (the storyteller) into a composition that communicates with the audience whilst evoking powerful imagination. She explains for example, that while performing varsha, she depicts that she has come across a still lake and as she gazes at the reflection of the moon, all of a sudden a single drop splits the large moon into a thousand moonbeams rippling through the pond.

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Known for producing works that explore multiple abstract ideas such as Now Is which explores time, and Within, that reaches deep within our soul to bring forth our hidden emotions, Mangaldas has always been on a quest to weave a tapestry of thoughts, ideas, textures, music, light, sound and stage that best bring about a seemingly vague concept. To achieve this, she has often resorted to a movement vocabulary that she terms, ‘contemporary dance based on Kathak.’

“Fusion I think is confusion,” she says expressing her distaste for the term. Rather, if there are feelings, emotions, or poetry which she wants to dance and communicate but which cannot be addressed within the broader structures of the Kathak tradition, she says, it is up to her to find that movement within the Kathak body and explore the idea.

Classical art is like a river that constantly rejuvenates Aditi Mangaldas takes the stage with her celebrated production Footprints on Water

The artiste suggests that she continues to perform Footprints on Water, one of her oldest productions simply because it resonates with her to this day. Image courtesy Dinesh Khanna/ Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company

“I feel that all classical art is like a river that constantly rejuvenates itself and therefore as it flows it imbibes from the current scenario of the dance stream,” she adds, “and if it is meaningful, profound, it will flow on otherwise it will sink …”

Such is the choreography of Footprints on Water. While it has not undergone too many alterations over the last two decades, it has continued to be a part of the artist’s repertoire along with her compositions such as Inter_rupted and Within, whose first half is contemporary and the second classical, simply because it continues to resonate with her being.

Mangaldas, who has also learnt the art of performance from Pt Birju Maharaj, was also a part of Lakhia’s troupe long before she started her lessons under the dancer extraordinaire and later went on to set-up The Drishtikon Dance Foundation.

Talking about the lessons learnt from her gurus, she says, “From Kumi ben, one learns a sense of ‘horizontality’ where you reach out and connect – my little, tiny body in connection to the space around me, in connection to the height, width and breadth of the stage, my connectivity with the music that is played, with the concept, idea of the light – to the stage and the presentation.”

“From Maharaj ji,” she continues, “I learnt the connection of the centre of my body to the rest of my body. So it doesn’t matter if there is 2ft of space or 25 metres of space. It is the connection which is the inner engineering of the body.

“With Kumi ben, every detail was looked into: the stagecraft, costumes, lights, entry, exits, the stance. With Maharaj ji, it was spontaneity. Within the framework of a choreographed piece, if there is no spontaneity, if there is no sense of the now, if there is no sense of being completely immersed in that particular moment, then somewhere it becomes an exercise rather than art,” Mangaldas explains.

Aditi Mangaldas’ Footprints on Water will be staged at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai on 20 October, 2019.

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