The richness of the content laid in different stages in itself was quite complex to begin with when I came across the topic, Nayak Bhed. It suddenly rang a bell that I’ve learnt a portion from this piece which is about four minutes long. Like an excited child in a candy store, I called Guruji to find out more about it, quoting his exact words followed by his trademark laughter, “Oh Abi, that’s nothing, what you’ve learnt is just the intro. It’s nearly 15 minutes long.”
With a sudden lump in my throat, I drew an imaginary speech bubble questioning myself, “how are we going to learn this 15 minute-long intense Abhinaya piece... ONLINE?”
I quickly erased that and carried on with my day to day activities eagerly waiting for the day to arrive to begin the course.
I logged in via Zoom and was immediately welcomed with so many new faces and a few familiar ones also from across the globe.
Having worked closely with Guruji and understanding how he works, I was sure that the sections would be taught systematically. With no time to waste, we jumped right in with a wonderful intro about Guruji and Balbir.
Quickly it felt like we were in a classroom with our books and pens, Guruji began with a detailed explanation about Nayak Bhed and the various male characters that encompass it. The performance piece focuses on four male characters. Three main characters in the Hindu mythology - Shri Rama, Kansa and Krishna. The fourth male being the devotee. This piece was more abhinaya heavy as opposed to pure dance (Nritta). When it comes to the integral aspect of the mimetic art of communicating emotion, i.e., Abhinaya, Guruji is one of the masters at it. Every emotion was conveyed to the best of his ability. The inception of stories needed dedication and focus to understand in depth. The stories were heavily pregnant with profound meaning and emotions which were beautifully explained.
In general, some stories need movements to understand them better, others just the detailed story line in order to become the character. This was one such piece that needed more theatrical work. Guruji showed every rasa very clearly and it was made easy for us to understand.
The music took us back in time with its rich sound quality and textures, composed very cleverly in small stanzas portraying each male and their characteristics in the first half and a strong story underlying each Nayak in the second half.
Abi (top row, centre) with Pratap Pawar, Balbir Singh and fellow students during one of the programme's Zoom sessions
Abirami Eswar, BSDC dancer and student on the Nayakanveshan Programme, performing in BSDC's public library-based work A Kathakar in the Library, in 2020
‘With a sudden lump in my throat, I drew an imaginary speech bubble questioning myself, “how are we going to learn this 15 minute-long intense Abhinaya piece... ONLINE?” ’
‘I logged in via Zoom and was immediately welcomed with so many new faces and a few familiar ones also from across the globe. This workshop truly shines light on distance learning. ’
As a female dancer, I felt I needed to push myself a bit more given my body naturally tends to curve for female characters and move gracefully. My body had to understand that it will have to move differently. The male characters in the piece were very masculine and tough. For example, Rama, with his majestic masculinity yet being composed, juxtaposed with Kansa, a cruel and arrogant man with movements that are more lifted, unattractive and gruesome.
During the course, we were sent little sections in video format from the piece to learn before our next session. The class was set once a week for two hours and a lot of things had to be accommodated within that. The students were split in three groups for Guruji to identify their understandings and any mistakes clearly. We were given detailed group feedback and sometimes individual feedback where necessary. The explanation of each segment took longer. As I had mentioned earlier, the detailed explanation of the story is what we needed the most.
It’s amazing how the human mind quickly adapts to various opportunities that are available in its vicinity. Be it technology or anything for that matter. The entire course was designed to be taught online via Zoom and in no time, a WhatsApp group was formed for sharing class notes, videos from Guruji for students to watch and learn. Students used the group for queries and their feedback. We were encouraged to send videos from the sections to Guruji via WhatsApp for his one to one feedback.
During the course, Balbir enlightened us with his past works keeping in line with the theme of Nayak Bhed and how he is able to place Kathak in modern and sometimes unusual performance settings and collaborations, whilst maintaining the purity of the traditional and making it easily accessible for new audiences.
His creative process of interlacing Kathak with various other art forms opened up new thinking for the participants with how they relate to the dance style, their own creativity and being brave to consider thinking in new ways. They were clearly stretched in two directions in their learning between Guruji and Balbir.
Now the question of how to present this piece in front of an audience comes to light. Not every audience member will know these stories so an explanation before the performance will elevate their understanding better whilst watching it. We had an entire class dedicated to presentation, costume and lighting.
Lighting plays a major role in this piece and aids in seamless transitions of each character. I particularly loved the idea of using a versatile white kurta and dhoti throughout the performance. The strength of the piece lies in the emotion and story line as opposed to the grand costumes.
It feels surreal to say that the piece is now complete and we had the chance to perform in front of esteemed guests on the last day. A valuable and memorable three months in our dance journey. This workshop truly shines light on distance learning.
I look forward to setting some time aside to delve deeper into the piece and try my best to do justice when performing in the future.
‘It’s amazing how the human mind quickly adapts to various opportunities that are available, be it technology or anything else. In no time, a WhatsApp group was formed for sharing class notes, videos from Guruji for students to watch and learn’
Abi practising with fellow students on Zoom