June 11, 2003 --
Queen Elizabeth Hall/ London
Birju Maharaj’s Heritage
programme at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday evening was as much about
education as it was about entertainment. Pandit Birju Maharaj, described
in the programme as legendary, is also a very warm and charming man and
is as much an educator as he is a dancer. His mission is clearly to spread
the word about the beauties of Kathak dance, a dance form with as much
emphasis on mime as there is on movement.
The evening began with Invocation to Lord Shiva, Shiva being the Indian
God of the dance and therefore an especially apt opening. Among the dancers
was Birju Maharaj’s son Deepak, representing the eighth generation of
dancers in his family. This was followed by Nritta in which Birju Maharaj
first danced a solo dedicated to Lord Krishna followed by a brilliant
series of improvisations in which he emphasises the importance of rhythm,
explaining that all of nature has a rhythm from the beating of a birds
wing to the rhythm we create when writing – handwriting can be fast or
slow and Kathak latches onto these rhythms, recreating them in dance forms.
This man can dance to anything, even the engaged tone of a telephone (much
laughter from the audience). A brilliant mime, he becomes a mother bird
feeding her chicks and then becomes a strutting peacock (my favourite)
before returning to some of the more familiar Hindu themes such as Lord
Krishna and the milkmaids, with the young God first the pursuer and then
In a very lengthy programme I was especially struck by Anamya (Pliable)
a work concerning the fate of a piece of iron that lies disregarded by
the side of the road, the iron dreams of becoming a temple bell but is
instead smelted into a sword and condemned to an existence of killing
and violence. The iron was brilliantly danced by Deepak Maharaj, first
as a clumsy inanimate object and then as a flashing sword dealing injury
and death. This piece very clearly illustrated the eastern idea of destiny,
somewhat at odds with our western notions of free will.
All dancers are communicators, but Birju Maharaj is an exceptionally fine
one, communicating to his audience his unique approach to Indian dance
and drawing us into his magical world.
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