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A vast ocean is still lying unexplored: Kathak exponent Uma Sharma

In an interview, Uma Sharma speaks about her innovative contributions to the classical dance form and projects that are yet to be accomplished

Chandan Sen | Kolkata |

Widening the repertoire of Kathak, classical dancer Uma Sharma’s contribution to the form has always been marked by her innovative style and creativity. She has retained the old glory of the form and restored to it the lost frontiers of poetry and the tradition of Abhinaya. She has also kept alive the folk tradition of Raas Leela. Her interpretative and expressional body language add rich visual appeal to the poetic images. Her body language evokes the contours of miniature painting and with her soft rhythmic footwork she mesmerises viewers. She is a niche artiste, adding to the form her own dance sequences and attractive dance dramas. Her solo expositions gave Kathak new dimensions. As a teacher extraordinaire, Uma Sharma has been grooming many young talents into the intricacies of the dance form. The 77-year-old dancer, who was recently in Rajasthan, spoke elaborately on her style. Excerpts:

Today, “Uma Sharma” and “Kathak”have become synonymous. Your comments…

Kathak has been my life for the past many years and would continue to be so. It has been my passion, my love, my everything! I still enjoy performing on stage. Nowadays I teach this dance form to budding artistes in Delhi and devote most of my time to Kathak.

As a veteran exponent, does the present status of Kathak match your perspective of the form?

Kathak is based on the devotional poems about Lord Krishna which dates back to medieval centuries and the highly cultivated court poetry of the 18th and the 19th centuries which celebrated Shringara, the sentiment of love. I am happy to see Kathak growing in leaps and bounds. Over the years, it has emerged as a global dance form which is liked by many cultures worldwide. It has been made even more popular through films and TV. But more efforts are required to ensure its sustainability in our country.

Share a bit with us about your style.

I have been trained by the greatest gurus of Kathak tradition such as Shambhu Maharaj (Lucknow Gharana) who set unmatched standards in the art of abhinaya and Sunder Prasad of the Jaipur Gharana who emphasised rhythmic footwork and its permutations. I sought to achieve a creative fusion of the two. I focus on the powerful thematic content and artistic presentation. I have depicted the works of Ghalib, Kaifi Azmi, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Meera, Tagore, (duet with Spanish Flamenco) and other literary greats through my dance. My little inputs with a choicest team of musicians and dancers made Kathak a fascinating experience.

Who are your inspirations in Kathak?

Well, many senior Kathak dancers namely Sitara Devi, Birju Maharaj and Roshan Kumari are undoubtedlythe greatest names. Their gurus,  under whom I was also trained, like Shambhu Maharaj and Sunder Prasad, are also inspirations. I am also a fan of Yamini Krishna Murthy.

Many young foreign students are learning Kathak in India. Your comments… 

Yes, students from different countries are learning Kathak under the guidance of the gurus. Deena Nath from Guyana (West Indies), Madina and Sanam from Tazakstan (under ICCR scholarship) are a few examples.

Dance is a way of expression. Do you believe it is an innate quality?

There are some important techniques of each style which one has to learn. I agree with you that it is a freedom of expression through body and eyes. If one wants to master a certain style whether it is Kathak or Odissi, one has to learn to gain mastery over the finer details particularly in style and its techniques.

You have come a long way.At this stage of career,what do you look forward to?

I am ever thankful to God for what I have been bestowed with. The vast ocean of music is still lying unexplored and there is always scope to excel. Someday, I wish to present Kalidasa’s Meghdoot and Amanat Ali’s Indra Sabha in the Kathak style.

Any special message for the readers?

If you dedicate yourself to what you learn, if you practice it sincerely, you will lose all fear of what may befall you. Music unites. Please associate yourself in some way or the other with Kathak. It will not only support the beautiful dance form but would also enlighten you simultaneously.