The speed of tradition
Nonika Singh

Gimmickry and eyeball grabbing innovations may have become a norm in the classical tradition; however, eminent kathak dancer Rajendra Gangani steadfastly refuses to be swept away by the prevailing trends. Purity and originality remain the hallmark of his dance and he continues to swear by tradition. He muses, "Indian classical forms have survived centuries precisely because of its original flavour and beauty. So, there is no way you can trifle with its original code."

Rajendra Gangani
Rajendra Gangani

It isnít as if he is against change. Tradition, he asserts, must reflect changing times and has created dance compositions on contemporary concerns like global terrorism, too. He adds, "Evolution must come naturally and should not be deliberately transposed from outside." Only recently he choreographed a fusion piece Rhythm of Life for the Indo-Africa Summit, bringing together over 100 dancers from India as well as eight African countries. However, he made sure there was no jumbling of various dance forms and only underlined the universality of rhythm.

Similarly, about his experience of dancing with Flamenco dancers more than a decade ago, he quips: "At no point did I delude myself that I am going to mix the two. I was only searching for a common meeting ground. While Flamenco dancers stuck to their form, I performed nothing else but kathak."

And in kathak, too, he adheres to the rules of the Jaipur gharana, which he represents. "Each gharana", he asserts, "has its own distinctive inimitable style." Nevertheless, isnít he inspired when he sees the likes of Pandit Birju Maharaj, the doyen of the Lucknow gharana? More so, since teaching at the Kathak Kala Kendra, New Delhi, he has rubbed shoulders often enough with Panditji, who, too, taught at the Kendra. Gangani replies, "To appreciate an artist is one thing. But to cut and paste his movements on to your style is another."

In fact, when it comes to kathak, he simply follows the teachings of his father, who was also his guru late Kundanlal Gangani. One line of fatherís that has become a guiding light for the son is óWhere is the khusboo in your dance? Smiles Gangani and recalls "In my formative years, this pertinent query of his made little sense. I wondered how can there be a fragrance in dance. But today I know he meant that an artist should have his own stamp that must make an imprint on the minds of audiences."

Ganganiís signature style, of course, is his unmatched speed. Today, as he dances like a man possessed, he justifies the scintillating energy thus ó "We are living in Formula One times, in an age when telegram has given way to instant messaging. So, speed canít be negated. Only the trick lies in making the audience reflect within through fast movements as well." Indeed, a tricky and tenuous balance? But as the vigour and verve of veer rasa pradhan Jaipur Gharana is unmistakable in his performances, he also insists that one should not mistake the Jaipur Gharana with veer rasa alone. All other rasas, be it shingaar or bhakti, he asserts, are an integral part of the Jaipur Gharanaís repertoire.

The beauty of his gharana besides precise footwork and difficult tode and paran, he avers, lies in the fact that there is no gender bender confusion either. "When a male dances it would seem like a male preserve and a female stronghold if the dancers are females." Hailing from a family of kathak dancers, perhaps dance was a natural choice for him. But over the years, has he witnessed a change in the mindset of people who have all along believed that dance is not a manís cup of tea? He says: "Yes. Educated and enlightened audience nurses no prejudices and looks at dance as an art form. I have many male disciples who have done exceedingly well".

In Punjab, however, he feels that many people still wear blinkers. Thatís precisely why in the near future he hopes to revive classical traditions in the land once known for the robust Punjab gharana of music. Before you dismiss his proclamation as an empty boast, remember here is a dancer who became a guru at the age of 20 and ever since has performed the onerous task of being a performing artist and a guru with aplomb, picking up laurels like the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award on the way. So, tomorrow he can easily turn into a patron and promoter of art, too. For combining different roles comes naturally to this gifted dancer, who is proficient in the art of playing pakhawaj and is a vocalist, too. Of course, the balance he strikes between tradition and innovation is exemplary and inspiring.