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Joanne Zimbler
Performance Reviews
Barnsdall Theater
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

Rina Mehta's Kathak Solo Review

by Joanne Zimbler
May 16, 2010
Barnsdall Theater
4800 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027-5302
Sunday night at the Barnsdall Theater in Hollywood was an evening filled with a surfeit of sensual Indian delights (replete with samosas and aloo tika) as Rina Mehta took to the stage in her first solo debut. A practitioner of a traditional Northern Indian folk dance called Kathak and student of the renowned Master and guru Pandit Chitresh, Mehta made for an exquisite sight in her highly adorned costumery and jewelry as she commanded the stage with a powerful charisma and energetic movements in a performance which was surely the pride of her Pandit.

A spirited tabla performance kicked off the show, as Abhijit Banerjee and two adolescent students joined him in a compelling exchange on the traditional Indian percussive instrument, as an organ player accompanied them. The drum necessitates difficult, complex hand movements which were reflected in the tense looks on the young performers faces. The intent young men watched and listened carefully as Banarjee improvised on the tabla and from one to the other looked back and forth, instructing them through his countenance, as a palpable paternal energy emerged from the performance, creating a poignant musical experience.

After a brief children's performance and video on Pandit Chirtresh, Mehta finally took to the stage bearing a plate of fragrant incense providing an aromatic richness that foreshadowed the resplendence that would soon take place on stage.

As Mehta's bare feet moved furiously in small pas de bouree like movements and dazzling twirls, her arms simultaneously formed movements like those of of the statues of Hindu gods. Hand movements were characterized by precision as they moved, flamenco like, to what could have been a performance of their own. The constant fast paced dance seemed to present a cardiovascular challenge, although nary a hint of it reflected on Mehta's ever smiling visage.

As though unconvinced of her unflagging endurance and stamina, Mehta further proved her dedication to her art, as she executed another difficult feat, one which involved playing a harmonium while moving her feet and singing to disparate unsynchronized rhythms. Mehta explained that historically, Kathak yogis would sit atop the Himalayas in meditation, an exercise involving mental, physical, and emotional strength which tested the limits of human potential. Mehta's modern interpretation of this Kathak Yoga was nothing short of a jaw dropping human wonder as we watched as she employed her entire being in the task.

The aesthetics of Kathak are not limited to dance but also involve a cultivated musical sensibility. Mehta demonstrated her musical proficiency when she engaged in a brilliant exchange with the musicians on stage as she sang, scat, danced and even accompanied the music with her feverishly moving percussive feet. At times her movements suggested that the vocabulary of her dance were the physical semiotics of a story, an aspect of the dance that she later confirmed as she then narrated a story, all the while continuing to dance tirelessly.

Kathak, which emerged in the fourteenth century, is an organic outgrowth of a culture and representation of its values, as well as a beautiful art form. Globalization, despite its many disadvantages, has brought us a multitude of gifts by making accessible what was once esoteric. Kathak is one of these gifts and perhaps, hopefully, as Mehta says she wishes for, will one day, like opera and ballet, become established as a great art form on the world stage.
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