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"Naya Deep" - Kathak In A New Light

Ranjani Saigal

Kathak, the classical dance from North India famous for its subtle movements and complex rhythmic patterns is being kept alive in the Boston area thanks to the tremendous efforts of Gretchen Hayden. Though not a native of India, she has learnt this art form for many years and has dedicated herself to teaching this art to others in New England.

Hayden is a senior disciple of the renowned and innovative Kathak Dance Master, Chitresh Das (from Calcutta). She began her Kathak training in 1972 and became a principal soloist with the Chitresh Das Dance Co. (CDDC) at its inception in 1980. She has given solo recitals and workshops in U.S., Canada, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and India. Hayden taught at the Chhandam School in California throughout the late 1970’s and 1980's. While in Calcutta for an extended stay in 1987, she was presented with a Senior Degree in Kathak Dance from the Nritya Bharati Academy, which was founded by Mr. Das’ parents in 1942. In 1992, she moved to Boston with her husband, sarodist and musicologist George Ruckert, where she established a branch of Chitreshji’s Chhandam School. With the assistance of several dedicated students, this school has now blossomed into the non-profit organization, Chhandika. Hayden has also initiated accredited Kathak Dance courses at Tufts University and Wellesley College, and is an adjunct faculty member at MIT.

Hayden along with her students, Meenakshi Verma and Anjali Nath presented “Naya Deep” , a traditional Kathak dance concert to celebrate the season of Diwali. The concert was a fundraising event for Chhandika. The event was held at MIT’S Little Kresgee Theater on Saturday, October 18, 2003. George Ruckert played the Sarod and the Piano. Tabla accompaniment was by Nitin Mitta.

The program began with a beautiful prayer piece performed by Anjali Nath and Meenakshi Verma. It was an unusual and aesthetic presentation where the dancers did the complete setup of the stage prayer area which includes the Nataraja idol, lamps etc as part of the dance.

After the prayer, Gretchen Hayden took the stage and showed her rhythmic virtuosity by tapping her feet to complex rhythmic patterns. After the technical demonstration she moved on to an Abhinaya piece based on the ever popular pranks of baby Krishna where he builds a human pyramid to reach butter pots that are out of his reach. Instead of the traditional approach of using songs in Indian languages she adapted the story-telling aspect of Kathak and narrated the story in English. This made it easy for the English speaking audience to understand the piece.

The Lord Krishna of Gretchen’s imagination was different from the Krishna portrayed by Indian dancers. Krishna in India is always considered as a naughty but absolutely mesmerizing person whose divine nature and kind heart made everyone want to be with him and do everything for him. He would never be harsh with anyone. But Gretchen’s Krishna was a little bully. Her humorous portrayal brought a lot of laugh from the audience.

A tabla solo came next and Nitin Mitta dazzled the audience with his exceptional playing.

The item to follow was the “Story of Princess Dymphna”. The piece is about the story of an Irish Princess whose cruel father wants to wed her (his own daughter) after the death of her mother. She escapes to Antwerp with the young man she loves in a boat. Her father chases her, but dies in the chase. The princess is traumatized by the whole incident. Suddenly an angel appears , fills her with forgiveness and helps her find peace. She later became a Saint in the Catholic tradition. George Ruckert blended Irish and Indian music while switching between the piano and Sarod. Gretchen was able to seamlessly integrate Irish step dancing with Kathak. The Irish bar scenes were brought to life quite realistically. It was lovely to see a non-Indian story presented through Kathak.

The recital ended with Gretchen and her students performing different rhythmic patterns. Both Meenakshi Verma and Anjali Nath ‘s presentations were technically sound . The Chakkars were well executed and the movements were graceful.

Gretchen Hayden deserves congratulations for not only learning and mastering this art form but also for internalizing it and bringing her own personal spirituality into it.

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