The Lahore Literary Festival 2014 featured evening length performances by famed Kathak dancer Naheed Siddiqui on Day I and the Sachal Orchestra on Day II. Youlin brings you coverage of both events.
|Naheed Siddiqui - Photo by Aleeza Rasool|
Truth: Not being equipped with a conceptual grounding in Kathak does not prevent you from understanding and being absorbed by the beauty of this most graceful of dance forms.
The first day of the Lahore Literary Festival 2014 closed with a Kathak performance by the maestra herself, Naheed Siddiqui. The largest hall at the Alhamra was packed to the rafters, with spectators having lined up in droves outside the door half an hour before it began; one was lucky to avoid being crushed against the walls when the entrance was opened and a swollen horde began pushing through a space only a few feet wide. It took half an hour and repeated requests from the organizers before the crowd settled down.
And then there was magic.
|Rehan Bashir - Photo by Aleeza Rasool|
The musicians walked onstage first and as they began warming up their instruments, an anticipatory hush settled over the hall. As the strains of tabla, harmonium and sitar snaked into the air, three young female dancers and a male dancer entered onstage, moving in slow cadence towards the center. Their beautifully erect, proud postures were softened by the fluidity of their movements. Patiently and painstakingly, they went through the steps, seemingly taking the sounds emanating from the instruments onto their bodies and flicking them about, playing with them, caressing them, offering to share them with the audience. While Rachel Waterman, Suraiyya Din and Ayesha Sarfraz took you in exuding charm and beauty, flashing the audience a smile every now and then, it was Rehan Bashir who arrested the eyes, dancing without seeming to pause for a second of breath, embodying strength and pride, manifesting it in the piercing stare, in the firm slope of the shoulders, in the back arched ever so slightly. The performance continued for some time, after which two of the dancers left while Bashir and Waterman remained. Slowly, they turned to face the back of the stage, extending their arms in welcome to the legend. Naheed Siddiqui came on stage to the adoration of a grateful people. The dancers remained a while longer, echoing Siddiqui’s moves, imitating her gestures, complementing her. Then, with a gentle nod for each, she bade them leave and the stage now belonged to her.
Moving up to the microphone, Naheed Siddiqui began by greeting the audience and expressing her gratitude for their presence and their appreciation. "Your love gives me energy and strength," she said. She then proceeded to explain what Kathak meant. Delivering a 'bol' she would explain the meaning in layman's language and then follow it with a demonstration in dance. As part of this performance, she laid particular emphasis on the importance of promoting the mother tongue Punjabi, particularly since it was a festival that celebrated language and literature. "I belong to the Punjab myself, and for me it is fascinating to explore Punjabi Kathak. Permit me to perform for you the poetry of the eminent Baba Bulleh Shah."
Naheed Siddiqui Creates Magic
The Kathak that followed was an altered version of the traditional form the audience had been seeing till that moment, with a noticeable softening of the posture, a leaning in to a subtly relaxed attitude but without losing an ounce of the vitality or strength that it took to execute each step (Click here to see video). Again and again, Siddiqui would come up to the mic, explain the next few verses she was about to perform and then dance them, until the audience was in raptures, carried away by an ecstasy of adoration and reverence for the lady that fed off their enthusiasm.
And that was perhaps the most striking part of it all, the fact that she engaged the audience, keen to take them with her in a flight of experience of what it meant to dance this dance and lift oneself slowly to joy and inspiration through it. She absorbed the adamant admiration of her people, using it to perform, to give back to them, to show them what their accolades made her feel, to thank them.
When it all ended, she was met with an endless standing ovation and received it with the humble grace of a master.
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