The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dance delight in Asia heart

It was the usual Indian Council of Cultural Relations request to send a Padatik team on a bond-building trip through central Asia. But this time, there were mostly students.

The initial itinerary included Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. At the last minute, the group of nine was asked to open the International Theatre Festival, Navruz, in Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan. Six of them rushed ahead. On arrival, the customs officials were suspicious of the visitors with no visas. However, they were waved right through with a wink and grin, when it was discovered that one member of the dance troupe was called Souvik Chakraborty. The reason: the Tajiks thought he was a relative of actor Mithun Chakraborty.

From then on, the Padatik people created waves with their performances. After the homecoming, the applause is still ringing in their ears. It was a tough task, explaining Shakti Chattopadhyay’s Abani, bari achho. Nor was it easy converting the Kathak dance version of Mughal Darbar to make it theatre-compatible.

The group comprised Kathak dancers Nayanika Ghosh, Bidisha Majumdar and Souvik Chakraborty and contemporary dancers Soujit Das, Abhishek Vinay Singh, Alford Justine Ann, Sonali Sehgal and Sunanda Hiroo, along with technician Dinesh Poddar (the only “grown-up”). The dancers had to undergo training in various forms, for “flexibility”. Just as well, because Sonali and Sunanda had to play the pankhawalis in the Mughal Darbar, while Souvik had the crowds on their feet as Mithun Chakraborty, in a rendition of Jimmy, Jimmy.

After the performance in Dushanbe on June 16, so pleased were the organisers that the group was presented with certificates “…for the active participation and demonstration of high skill…” by the minister of culture. Then followed a request for a repeat performance at Tarantupe. It was on to Kazakhstan from there, to Almaty, Kargandha and Astana, the capital. Finally, on June 26, it was Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan.

Their eclectic repertoire included Guru Brahma, a composition by Bikram Ghosh, and a Shah Rukh Khan mix. No points for guessing what was the most popular. In fact, young, Souvik was actively pursued by “girls of all ages” for autographs after Jimmy, Jimmy, which won a standing ovation at every destination. They all chorus that Kazakhstan was the most beautiful, Dushanbe’s performance was the best experience and despite the lack of a CD player at Bizkesh, the audience there was the most appreciative.

As for permissions, Sonali, Sunanda and Justine not only had the full support of their parents, but also their schools. In fact, Sunanda, 16, of La Martiniere for Girls’, was actively encouraged by her principal, although she missed her unit tests.

At the end of the two-week journey, although life’s back to normal, the “once in a lifetime experience” will not be forgotten in a hurry.

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