A microphone rests on a small pillow on the stage floor. A few inches away, Anurekha Ghosh, an internationally renowned dancer from Kolkata, India, stamps out a frenetic rhythm with the soles of her bare feet. The percussive smacking of skin against wood is nearly drowned out by an even louder metallic tinkling, the chimes of hundreds of tiny bells tied around her ankles that ring out like a tambourine with each beat. As she steps in place, the flesh of her thighs and hips vibrates, seemingly electrified. The gold threads on her peacock-blue robe catch the light and glisten, and a look of cool confidence graces her face. She pulls both elbows out to either side, creating lift that contrasts against her weighted feet. With one hand, she delicately pulls back her skirt, and with the other she sweeps up and down and side to side in front of her chest, drawing lines in space that she follows with flashing eyes.
It is no wonder that this style of South Asian classical dance, kathak, is often compared to Spanish flamenco. In the piece just described, a “pure” (technical, nonrepresentational) dance set to music in a sixteen-beat time cycle, Ghosh’s fiery footwork, with an emphasis on flat feet and heel strikes, her proud verticality and raised chest, and her feminine charisma all produce a similar sensibility.
In other segments of Ghosh’s performances, however, this resemblance disappears. In “Invoking Lord Ganesha,” she melts into a series of slow-moving spirals, her arms carving pathways around her body as she shifts in and out of postures referencing Hindu religious imagery. As is common in Indian classical dance, Ghosh brings to life a cast of characters in her single body. First, she marches across the stage in profile with one arm stretched long in front, evoking the trunk of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. Next, she brings her palms together in solemn prayer, transforming into a pious temple worshipper. The dance ends in spiritual ecstasy, as Ghosh’s postures unravel into mesmerizing spins.
Ghosh’s kathak dance, which I watched online, is the opening act of an upcoming performance, a two-day event that’s part of the Rasa Festival of South Asian culture. I attended last year’s inaugural Rasa Festival and came away impressed by the high quality of the performances. Bringing together an international cast of acclaimed artists, Sreyashi Dey, the festival organizer, masterfully balanced accessibility with depth, curating a viewing experience as intellectually stimulating as it was artistically edifying. Another highlight of this year’s festival will be East Side Stories, a solo play by Kolkata-based actor Sanchayita Bhattacharjee that explores women’s experiences of the Indian partition in Bengal.
Performances take place October 5 and 6 at WCC Towsley Auditorium. The Rasa Festival, which began in September, also includes events on October 3 and 7.