In the heart of the classical dance world, where tradition meets innovation, Madhur Gupta emerges as a beacon of artistic evolution. A decade since our first encounter at Guru Sharon Lowen’s dance studio, Madhur’s recent solo show, ‘Usha Suktam ,’ proved to be an enchanting testament to his growth as an artiste.
As I entered the auditorium, I was immediately captivated by the stunning stage decor. The fragrance of Rajnigandha flowers permeated the air, setting the scene for a performance that promised to be more than just a routine recital. The carefully curated details, down to the flickering incense and the interplay of lights, hinted at a performance that would transcend the boundaries of classical dance.
As the curtains parted, Madhur Gupta took center stage, embodying the grace and elegance that Odissi demands. The traditional pleated dhoti, adorned with a contemporary drape, was a visual representation of his unique approach – rooted in tradition, yet branching out into the realm of innovation. His movements were a symphony of precision and fluidity, a testament to the rigorous training he received under eminent Guru Sharon Lowen.
‘Usha Suktam’ inspired by the Rig Veda’s homage to the goddess of dawn, unfolded as a celebration of new beginnings and the pursuit of enlightenment. Madhur’s portrayal of Usha was nothing short of divine. With each gesture and expression, he effortlessly conveyed the metaphysical concept of awakening-a reminder that dance can be a conduit for profound ideas. What sets Madhur apart is his ability to preserve the essence of classical dance while infusing it with a contemporary flavor. His connection to his late mother, Dr. Usha Gupta, added an emotional layer to the performance. This piece was not just a dance; it was a tribute, a personal journey that resonated with every audience member.
The collaboration of accompanying artistes was a symphony in itself. Namrata Dave’s mastery of the mardala, coupled with the soul-stirring vocals of Sukanta Nayak and Ashish Nayak, created an ambiance that transported the audience to a higher realm. Nikhil Kumar’s melodious flute, Anees Rahman’s resonant sitar, and the delicate rhythms of Smita Babar’s manjira and Poojil Tiwari’s jhanjh harmoniously intertwined, creating a tapestry of sound that elevated Madhur’s dance to celestial heights. Every movement, every note, and every nuance converged to create an unforgettable experience.
As I sat in the front row, I couldn’t help but marvel at Madhur’s journey. From his initial training in Kathak under Pandit Birju Maharaj to his deep dive into Odissi, his evolution as an artiste was evident in every move. ‘Usha Suktam’ was a culmination of years of dedication and passion. In a field where male Odissi dancers are a rarity, Madhur Gupta has carved a niche for himself. He stands as a testament to the fact that dedication and determination can break barriers. His journey, guided by legendary figures like Guru Sharon Lowen, Madhavi Mudgal, Bichitrananda Swain, and Kumkum Lal, serves as an inspiration to aspiring dancers.
It was followed by Shivani Varma’s presentation of ‘Baat Phoolon Ki’ paying homage to the rich tradition of courtesans in India, beautifully encapsulating the delicate essence of their art. The influence of tawaifs, revered as custodians of culture during the Mughal era, is vividly portrayed in this Kathak performance. A disciple of the late Pt. Birju Maharaj and Guru Shovana Narayan, Shivani Varma’s journey from being a lawyer to a devoted Kathak practitioner reflects her passion for this classical dance form.
The recital’s structure, featuring a Darbari Tarana in Jhap taal, a glimpse of the Vilambit Laya of teen taal, and concluding with a thumri, is a testament to Pt. Birju Maharaj’s profound influence on her artistry. The musical ensemble, including Samiullah Khan on vocals, Yogesh Gangani on tabla, Mahaveer Gangani on pakhawaj, Arshad Khan on esraj, and Nikhil Kumar on flute, seamlessly complemented Shivani’s dance, creating a harmonious atmosphere. However, it’s worth noting that every performance offers room for improvement, just as a diamond is polished several times to attain its perfect shine. One area for growth is Shivani’s footwork, which plays a vital role in Kathak. While her footwork displayed moments of grace and synchronization with the music, there were instances where clarity and control were lacking. Consistent practice will be essential to master this aspect.
In addition, stage presence and confidence are key elements of any performance. Shivani’s hesitancy affected the overall impact, particularly in her expressions, which are crucial for conveying emotions and storytelling in Kathak. Considering the event’s context, a more concise and focused presentation would have maintained the audience’s engagement, allowing them to fully appreciate the performance without feeling overwhelmed.
The event began with Mangal Dwani, a performance by children from Salaam Balak Trust, adding a heartwarming touch to the evening. The culmination of the event was the launch of Madhur Gupta’s book, ‘Courting Hindustan,’ published by Rupa Publication. This momentous occasion was graced by Guru Sharon Lowen, Sanjoy Roy, Ambassador Pavan Verma, Sunit Tandon, Ashok Vajpeyi, and Eric Chopra who also moderated a brief panel discussion that added depth to the artistic celebration.
The event took place at the Shri Ram Centre for Arts in New Delhi, serving as a testament to the enduring beauty of classical dance, literature, and the continuous evolution of artists.
Anurag Chauhan, an award-winning social worker and arts impresario, combines literature and philanthropy to inspire positive change. His impactful storytelling and cultural events enrich lives and communities.