Kathak dancer, Antara Bhardwaj, presented by Sangam Arts and EnActe Arts, performed Tale of a Kathaka, an exciting program, July 9, 2016, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. She demonstrated her mastery of the classical Indian dance with its origins in Northern India, and her ability to captivate an audience with her interpretations of the tradition. The enthusiastic audience found much to applaud and also much to think about. Ms Bhardwaj’s program included collaborations with other artists. It is her special focus to work with artists of other traditions. The first dance on Tale of a Kathaka combined Andrea Sendek’s Belly Dance group, Khepri Dance Company, with Kathak dancers from Ms Bhardwaj’s new group, Antara Asthaayi Dance. The contrast of the Khepri dancers’ silky, translucent costumes with the Kathak dancers in jewel tone costumes added visual pleasure to the dancing. The two dance forms share movement themes of spiraling, vivid turning. Named Deewani Mastani and based on a character from a popular Bollywood film, Bajirao Mastani, the dance was an exuberant beginning.
Ms Bhardwaj wisely chose outstanding musicians to accompany her work and perform selections of their own. The Sarangi-Sarod Jugalbandi, a duet for Sarangi artist Pankaj Mishara and Sarod artist Ben Kunin, was fascinating in its own right and also a great program choice between dances. A sitar solo by Rajib Karmakar was an excellent addition to the program. It was a treat to be in the audience for Salar Nader, renowned Tabla artist, as well. Vocalists included Vaishali Bhardwaj, Leah Brown, and Divya Chandran.
Among Ms Bhardwaj’s strengths as a performer is her comfort addressing her audience verbally or through dance. She deepened appreciation for her work by explaining aspects of Kathak. For example, she demonstrated the counts of the complex rhythms. On a more personal level, she talked about falling in love with the movie dances she saw as a youngster and her determination to dance in “twirly skirts.” She communicates her understanding of her art and a confident presence which could light up all of Silicon Valley. One selection, Journey of the Steam Engine, had special resonance for this viewer. It was a signature piece of Pandit Chitresh Das, Ms Bhardwaj’s guru, and had been created by his guru, Pandit Ram Narayan Mishra. As she told its story and danced, I remembered my first meeting with Chitresh Das and could see him in that moment. His energy seemed to expand the stage. Ms Bhardwaj is Dance & Music director of The Conference of the Birds, which appears Sept. 9-11, at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, San Jose. A production combining diverse ethnic dance groups, it promises an extraordinary event.