Antara Asthaayi: Tale of a Kathaka

EnActe Arts and Sangam Arts will be presenting “Antara Asthaayi: Tale of a Kathaka” on July 9th in the Bay Area. The show promises to be both, a tribute to Pandit Chitresh Das by Antara Bharadwaj, one of the lead dancers in his company and a glimpse into her own evolving personality as a performer. The title is representative of this and was inspired by Hindustani music terminology: Antara is the second verse, a follow-on from the main piece. Asthaayi is the initial phrase of a composition.

“The other aspect of the title is “Tale of a Kathaka,” which means the tale of the story-teller and that is the raison d’etre for Enacte’s involvement,” says Vinita Belani, Artistic Director of Enacte Arts. “Enacte is committed to encouraging emerging story-tellers in a South Asian context; Antara embodies this and it’s exciting to present somebody who will be an inspiration to the next generation. It’s a centuries old Indian tradition to tell stories through dance and it is only fitting that our next act be presented by a dancer.”

The show is a 90 minute presentation featuring other well known artists as well- Ben Kunin on Sarod, Salar Nader on Tabla, Rajib Karmakar on Sitar, and Pankaj Mishra on Sarangi.

For Usha Srinivasan, founder of Sangam Arts, this was an added motivation to promote the show. “Sangam promotes productions that are, by their very nature, a multi-cultural confluence. Antara Asthaayi brings together a classical dance form with traditional, improv, original, and popular scores, musicians with Californian, Afghani, and Indian roots, and a narrative that spans several cultures and timelines. All in the voice of an artist who grew up in America.”

Bharadwaj will be presenting a famous but rarely seen piece that was first presented by Das at the 1984 Olympics, called, simply, Taraana in Raag Hindol-Teen taal. He then re-invented it in a cycle of 12.5 beats, or saadey-baara-maatra, which has been presented just once.

Bharadwaj elaborates in an interview-

IC: What makes the Saadey-Baara-Maatra Taraana so special?

AB: It’s special to the world because after Panditji performed it in the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts in 2010, for the Company’s 40th anniversary, it’s never been seen. It’s special to me because I was his vocal accompanist on that piece, the only. So in a sense, I feel like it is his heritage that I will be sharing. I feel enormously blessed. 

IC: Do you see yourself, Antara, as a dancer or as a story-teller? And who are you day-to-day?

AB: Most definitely, story-teller. I use both my chosen mediums to do that – film and dance. Art mimics Life…right now, my life is evolving. Used to be, I lived out of 2 suitcases for weeks shooting a movie. Now I cannot travel where the story takes me. Dance is a jewel that was handed to be, and there are only tens of jewelers or dancers in this world. So dance is bigger part of my life now. Being a mother is also a big part of my life..I realized that Indian kids growing up here cannot really learn Hindi because they cannot relate to the way it’s taught…so I just came up with a way that I think makes more sense to my own son- It’s called The Hinglish Channel, and it’s on youtube.

IC: How do you weave the fine line between choreography and execution? Is one the reflection of the other or does execution have its own wings?

AB: I am inspired by music, first and foremost. When I hear a song, I react instinctively- I see a music video, complete with costumes, shots, story. When it comes to execution, I explore deeper. I delve into character- What is she going through? What has made her who she is at that time? After that, it’s a matter of dancing like that person.

IC: One of the items features Deewani Mastani, a Bollywood number. Why did you choose this piece?

AB: For any of my performances- I always ask myself, what can I, as a Kathak artist and as a Kathaka bring to this piece? What I saw in Deewani Mastani was the potential to develop the character… I see Mastani as a crazy woman, somebody who let’s say, colored a bit outside the lines, but at the same time, did realize that there are lines. Independent, but with tehzeeb (decorum)…her passion was not a liability to Bajirao, rather, he was empowered with her by his side. That complex slice of human emotions is what I want to present through dance.

IC: You perform both in India as well as the US- Where is Kathak today in the Bay Area, vis-a-via India?
AB: I think there are promising next-gen artists in both, this gives me hope. Will Kathak ever be mainstream? Probably not. As classical dancers, we just have to accept that, and not compete with it. I see technology as a way to make inroads into new audiences, people who would otherwise never get a chance to experience tradition get to do so via the public domain…on the flip side, it’s become harder to promote classical dancing, since it has to be done in a few mins- nobody has the patience to watch for longer than that. This is sooo different from what it used to be, when an artist was given the luxury of getting into the zone and then mehfils would go one for hours!

Bharadwaj is also the dance director in Enacte and Sangam’s ambitious September dance-theater presentation of the Sufi poem, The Conference of The Birds, which showcases more than thirty dancers representing ten countries.

More info at

Photo credit: Andy Phillipson

As appeared in India Currents

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