He is 75. But age cannot wither his poise, precision, perfection and presence. It is still that same high-calibre artistry, which conveys nuances of bhav, magic of rhythm and deep bhakti. That same unique style of wit and humour he weaves in his dancing. He is none other than the living legend, the kathak maestro, Pandit Birju Maharaj.
The meaning he gives to dance through his performance and understanding of the art form is as mesmerizing as ever. This reviewer developed a fascination for the kathak dance style after watching Birju Maharaj’s graceful performance long back. And it is surprising how he still maintains that rare grace and beauty of his interpretation. It was heartening to see dancers from different styles assembled on a single podium to pay a musical tribute to Maharaj and to create harmony in the vibrant versatility of the Indian classical heritage on the platinum jubilee year of his birth anniversary. Organized by Nrityangan Kathak Kendra and helped by Padatik, it was an enjoyable evening. Divided into different parts, the programme at Rabindra Sadan began with a group Odishi performance led by Rajiv Bhattacharya.
After their Ganesh vandana, Jailal Academy of Music took the stage under the guidance of Kajal Misra, a renowned kathak dancer. The evening was embellished by the performance of 17 groups and it was well-managed. Aloka Kanungo, a brilliant Odishi dancer, excelled in her abhinaya along with her group, Shinjan Nrityalaya. Nrityangan Kathak Kendra presented taal dhamar under the able guidance of Paramita Maitra.
Kalamandalam Venkit, in his solo kathakali presentation, maintained his ardent approach, which touched one’s heart. The students of North-East from Padatik were exuberant and enthusiastic. Luna Poddar’s group maintained its standard. Kalamandalam Calcutta presented tillana archana, which was vibrant and synchronized. It showed their proper learning under a dedicated guru. Madhumita Roy’s group was energetic. Diksha Manjari presented nabadurga under the tutelage of Dona Ganguly. The dancers looked beautiful.
In the second half of the programme, little Baidurja Chatterjee presented her solo number based on Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwala, followed by the felicitation of Birju Maharaj. The most awaited moment was when Birju Maharaj took the stage. Without make up, ghunghroo and a formal dance costume, Maharaj mesmerized the audience with his brief presentation in teental, his favourite one. He had once said, “Rhythm is everywhere... even our heart beats in a particular rhythm... rhythm is God.” This conviction was manifest in his presentation. He danced not only with his limbs but also through his eyes — which was the most soulful part of his performance. In his abhinaya, “Sainya chhoro mohe maike jana hai”, he sang the thumri with Debasish Sarkar. Saswati Sen, a wonderful dancer and a student of Maharaj, joined her guru briefly in their duet performance.