The final concert at the delightful Batha Museum venue presented Anuj Mishra and Niha Singh from India performing Kathak Dance.
Later, in the palaces of the Mughal Emperors as well as in the courts of the Hindu Maharajas, Kathak became a refined dance form, completely devotional in nature. It was considerably enriched by elements of Persian culture and also evolved within the aesthetic of the Muslim culture of the three great schools in Northern India at Varanasi, Lucknow and Jaipur.
The rhythmic virtuosity and the barely touching movements, a kind of whirlwind of body and spirit, make Kathak an almost celestial expression.
His father Arjun Mishra is widely recognised in India as one of the best Kathak dancers. Born into a musical family in Varanasi, he learned singing and tabla from childhood. But once he discovered Kathak he decided to devote himself to it. He studied with the masters of the tradition in Varanasi and then went to Delhi to study further under Birju Maharaj, the uncontested master of the great Lucknow tradition. Sadly Arjun Mishra was not well enough to perform in Fez.
Accompanied by tabla, sarod and harmonium, Anuj Mishra attains the difficult synthesis between a dazzling dance technique and an innate sense of expressing a whole range of emotions (abhinaya).
The first part of the performance was "The Dance of Creation" and was performed by Anuf Mishra and Niha Singh. From the first series of graceful movements the audience was left in no doubt that they were experiencing brilliant exponents of the Lucknow School of Kathak. The timing, fluidity and sense of drama were all on display.
The dance was greeted with prolonged applause.
Niha Singh then left the stage to Anuj Mishra. 'This is the technical part,' he explained. "The foot movements are very intricate and the body positions most difficult." He was not wrong. But not once did he falter. His feet, circled at the ankles by tiny bells, flew in a blur; the sound of his steps creating a bass note beat that was perfectly matched by the tabla.
A musical and dance version of "question and answer" followed, with the tabla player and Anjuj Mishra trading rhythmic patterns in a dazzling display of superbly timed footwork.
The second part saw a change of costume and Niha returned and performed a stunning solo.
Anuj then demonstrated his tremendous talent - a breath-taking display of spinning.
From an audience point of view this afternoon’s performance of Kathak dance was educational as well as entertaining. Anuj Mishra took great pleasure in interacting with the audience, stopping between each dance to explain the intricacies to a grateful crowd who hung on his every word.
He explained the moves that represented animals, such as the deer, cow and lion, the importance of facial expression in the dance and the break down of the sixteen-beat rhythms.
These rhythms – played on the tabla drums – were pounded out by his feet and counted in the swift turns as he twirled endlessly. Mishra commented on the heat and hoped it didn’t affect his ability to perform, but the precision of his moves never faltered.
The joy of the performance was equal between the dancers, musicians and audience – with smiles on each face, every way you turned.
“Thank you to the Fes Festival for inviting us, to Morocco and most of all to the beautiful audience,” Mishra said as they took a bow.
Anne Graaff from South Africa said this afternoon’s performance was one of her highlights of the whole Festival.
“The dance was rhythmically constructed in such an intricate manner – it’s mathematical and very complex,” she said. “I also realised the connection to the development of Western classical dance – Kathak dance must be the roots of that, from the Mughal courts of the Raj.
“The setting was perfect, under the spreading limbs of this great tree, and to see such beauty in the costumes. They were ravishing!
“Both of them were an eyeful of beauty, but she’s like a little jewel box, a princess in a paradise garden.
“It was just perfect.”
This was an extremely enjoyable concert both from the point of view of dance and that of fine Indian music. From its origins in Calcutta in the 12th century to the stage at the Batha Museum is a long one and the audience gave the dancers and musicians sustained applause for a display that showed Kathak is alive and in good hands - or maybe, feet.
FÈS FESTIVAL QUICK LIST
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Art during the Festival #1
Art during the Festival #2
The Enchanted Gardens of Fez
Last Minute Accommodation
Reporting: Vanessa Bonnin, Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke
The View from Fez is an official Media Partner of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music