'I don't dance to entertain'

Sufi Kathak

Manjari Chaturvedi is known to set a remarkable milestone in the history of performing arts by combining mystical traditions with classical Indian dance, to create a new dance form called ‘Sufi Kathak’. After 16 years of work in Sufi poetry, music and classical Indian dance; travelling to countries like Egypt, Krygyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and working with artistes from Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Punjab and Lucknow, the danseuse conceptualised this dance form.

Chaturvedi recently performed in the capital, dancing on one of the most popular songs of Bulleh Shah Tere Ishq Nachaya for her latest production titled ‘O Bullayah’ Talking to Metrolife, the 41-year-old shares more about the performance and Sufi Kathak.
Excerpts:

Elaborate on Sufi Kathak.

The dance form melds the philosophical depth of Sufi poetry with the narrative beauty and grace of classical Indian dance form. It is a new dance form that uses classical dance to narrate and interpret Sufi poetry. It is the only Indian dance form that follows the concept of nirgun brahma (Brahman without form or qualities).

Tell us more about ‘O Bullayah’.

It took me more than five years to research and put this whole concept together. Nothing on Bulleh Shah has been done in classical dance. He was the one who could write poetries, sing, dance. This production found its relevance especially in recent times when humanity is divided to large an extent.

What did your performance aim at?

While I still remain wonder-struck at our immense poetic wealth, I am also saddened by how Punjab has squandered away its cultural traditions. Today, the only music emanating from Punjab is dhink chak music with use of random words. Shouldn’t someone take the couplets of Baba Bulleh Shah or Baba Farid and set it to music?

How is Sufi Kathak different as compared to other dance genres?

Like the Sufi thought, instead of using one dominant language, Sufi Kathak uses various dialects in which saints had written the poetry. And dancing to this poetry, brings a responsibility to the dancer to portray the poetry in its true sense. The purpose of the poetry used was never literary. It is therefore necessary for the dancer to first understand the message of the poetry in order to be able to do justice to its presentation. There are implicit messages in the poetry, based on one’s interpretation, which the dancer should incorporate in the performance.

How many dancers are actively involved in this genre, today?

A spiritual form of art has a different purpose. I don’t dance to entertain. I dance to share my energy with the audiences and take them to the same heights of spirituality that I experience while dancing. However, today the platforms for this kind of energy exchange are only through concerts and hence we also come into the bracket of ‘entertainers’, which actually we are not. As for classical art forms, thriving is not a word that I would use. The lines between a spiritual connect with the art form and entertainment are becoming thinner. Thus, most performers like myself, who are part of mystical traditions, remain confused if we are part of a spiritual elevation process or plain simple entertainment.

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