Experiences from New York Kathak Festival

By Shivangi Dake Robert In December 2018, I got to know about the New York Kathak Festival. They were accepting applications from Kathak artists around the world and I sent in my application. In Jan 2019, I received a reply from the team which said  “We enjoyed reviewing your application and are excited to share that you have been selected to perform at the 2019 festival”. I was over the moon on receiving this opportunity to perform a solo at the New York Kathak Festival ( abbr. NYKF) and started preparing. The New York Kathak Festival team did their best to promote the festival via social media. It was a first of its kind festival to be held in the city. A bunch of talented Kathak artists from the US and different parts of the world were selected to perform. I was excited to meet them and watch them perform. I was also thrilled to know that Padmavibhushan Pt. Birju Maharajji and Vidushi Saswati Sen didi were going to perform there and conduct an intensive workshop. I could not wait to go to New York. The NYKF dates were 19th April 2019 – 21st April 2019. It was a roller coaster ride to get the US visa but I finally got it! First time my visa application was rejected. Applied again, and second time, Visa approved!! Anisha, one of the main organisers of the festival and Urvashie were very helpful and made the process easier.

Prepared and rehearsed a lot for my solo performance to be presented. Costume, jewellery, make up, ghungroo, hair accessories, all packed and ready to travel! On 16th April I boarded my flight from Singapore to NYC. Changed two planes and 22 hours later reached the Newark airport. Tired, jet lagged but full of anticipation and excitement. To reach my place of accommodation it took me two train rides and a long walk with a heavy suitcase from Columbus circle subway station, it was an adventurous journey. First two days in NYC were spent rehearsing and exploring the Manhattan neighbourhood, including  some of the popular locations such as Central Park and Times Square. Spellbound by the vastness and beauty of these places, I was so tired in a couple hours that I went back to the room and got much needed sleep. Evenings were quite chilly for the month of April in NYC. NYKF Day 1 – Woke up refreshed after a restful sleep. It was the first day of New York Kathak Festival and the day of my performance. I practiced, got ready to attend Maharajji’s workshop.  Packed my costume and ghungroos for the performance and headed to Ailey Citigroup Theatre, Manhattan, the venue for both the workshop and the festival.  Reached the venue and met some wonderful new people, most of whom were from New York, New Jersey and some other parts of US. It was so good to meet Anisha, the main organiser and the core team of NYKF consisting of about ten people. They were such warm and wonderful hosts. Soon after, Maharajji and Saswati didi arrived for the workshop. I felt like the luckiest person in the room because my guru was right there in front of me. Post the workshop it was soon time to get dressed for the performance. All set and ready! I was one of the few artists to be performing that evening. I was both excited and nervous before going on stage. Maharajji and Saswati didi were the chief guests of the festival. To perform a solo in front of them and to receive Maharajji’s blessings for the performance was definitely a dream come true. My performance was in two parts – both original choreographies by yours truly. First part was a Kathak recital set to Brazilian jazz music and the second was a Kathak presentation on a semi-classical song involving the Sitar and guitar. The audience’s reaction with a roaring applause left me humbled and determined to work even harder to perfect my craft. Interviews, photographs and post performance meet-n-greet followed, overwhelming me with joy. I was grateful to the NYKF team for letting me be a part of their beautiful event. Day 2 – This day too started with meeting artists and art enthusiasts at the festival over breakfast. This was followed by Pt. Birju Maharajji’s workshop. It was such an enriching experience to learn from the maestro himself. So much to learn each time I meet the legend! Got to meet the well known tabla Guru Pt. Divyank Vakil, based in New Jersey, a few of his Kathak dance students were also a part of this festival. Later that day the line up of artists was quite interesting. One of the artists was New York based Kathak exponent Prashant Shah, a disciple of Padmavibhushan Kumudini Lakhiaji. Prashant and his disciples performed wonderfully, the show ended with a well deserved standing ovation. Day 3 – The most awaited day of the festival was here! Maharajji and Saswati didi were going to perform at the finale concert! The concert started with some of the most awaited performances of the festival followed by Saswati didi who performed a traditional Kathak solo and mesmerised everyone with her grace, intricate footwork and expressive story telling through various rhythmic patterns. The finale was concluded by Maharajji singing his beautiful compositions of thumris which left everyone absolutely spellbound! We couldn’t get enough of it, the evening ended with a standing ovation for the maestro. It was also the last day of the festival. It was not easy to say goodbye to the wonderful team of NYKF. Anisha, Urvashie, Meenakshi, Henna, were such wonderful hosts! But I was happy to have connected with some wonderful artists and people. With some time to spare before my flight back to Singapore, I decided to further explore the city of New York.  I caught glimpses of iconic places like Times Square, One World Trade Centre, Rockefeller Centre and the Hudson River. Now it was time to pack up and get ready to catch my flight back home.

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