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Erica and the Navarasa*

Erica Mulkern

BSDC dancer Erica Mulkern, who is participating in the programme, reflects on her experience of working one-to-one with Guruji Pratap Pawar. Erica trained in ballet and contemporary and she could not turn down the opportunity to try her hand (and her eyebrows) at Kathak…

Balbir thought it would be a wonderful idea for one of his dancers to work one-to-one with Guruji Pratap Pawar. I was so incredibly honoured when he asked me, this was a great opportunity to learn from the best of the best! I had no idea what to expect from these sessions so I tried to approach them with an open mind. Guruji was very friendly and patient from start to finish. He taught me three separate Ghoonghat phrases with different characters. I found it extremely interesting to see how Kathak dancers embrace characterisation and I am still working on trying to isolate my eyebrows (with little success!).

In our next session, we went into further detail with the Ghoonghat solos. I then learnt about The Navarasa, which is a scripture that refers to the nine expressions that humans often show. The stories behind my solos were as follows: anger – a warrior in the war firing his bow and arrow at his enemies. Disgust – as the sun sets in the battlefield the women walked through and saw the massacre around them. Wonder – a beautiful autumn setting, seeing the full moon, stars and feeling the breeze.

Guruji explained the stories behind the solos to help me link them together and find real life emotions to connect with. From observing sessions with Guruji I noticed that the students would sit still whilst he demonstrated – for someone from Ballet training this is very different. In my training, we were always encouraged to mark along with the teacher and that we always had to do something full out – be it the arms or footwork. During my sessions with Guruji I found myself still marking things through and twitching a lot whilst he was demonstrating. I am still learning to take a moment to observe the teacher and then do rather than just try and dive in head first and hope for the best.

Erica demonstrating what she has learned for Guru Pratap Pawar and fellow students on Zoom

I am certain that working with someone from a classical background must have been very difficult for him but he showed kindness and clarity which helped greatly.

Of course, I find Kathak very difficult, it takes me quite a while for my brain to process the placement of my fingers, then my eyes, head, eyebrows, wrists, shoulders and feet. I am fortunate to have had such a lovely teacher to introduce me to the world of Kathak not just as an observer but as a partaker.

Balbir ensured that I was well prepared for my lessons with Guruji and I went away from our sessions with great excitement for the next. I have learnt to express emotions in ways that I didn't think was possible and I am so thankful to have had this experience. The group was very welcoming and open when I shared with them what I had learnt with Guruji. Balbir encouraged me to approach the movements from my perspective and to not worry too much about the placements but more about where these new pathways and feelings could lead me in the future with my own practice and development.

What I have learnt is invaluable and in a time where sharing can be limited and I feel isolated from society, I have never felt more connected to others.

* Navarasa means nine emotions. Nava means nine, Rasa means emotional states or emotions.

The nine emotions are Shringara (love/beauty), Hasya (laughter), Karuna (sorrow), Raudra (anger), Veera (heroism/courage), Bhayanaka (terror/fear), Bibhatsya (disgust), Adbutha (surprise/wonder) and Shantha (peace or tranquillity).

Erica Mulkern, BSDC dancer and student on the Nayakanveshan Programme, here in rehearsal for BSDC's The Two Fridas in 2020

‘I have learnt to express emotions in ways that I didn't think was possible and I am so grateful to Guruji, Balbir and Sunil for allowing me to be a part of this project and encouraging me to explore Kathak’

Erica Mulkern