DANCE ORIGIN: North India
Charlotte Moraga has studied and performed extensively in the U.S. and India for twenty years. She has imbibed the depth of knowledge necessary to master the heart of kathak dance: upaj, translated as “from the heart” and also as “improvisation.” She has toured as a soloist and a company member playing lead roles in Pandit Das’ works: ‘Darbar’, ‘Sita Haran’, ‘Pancha Jati’, ‘Sampurnam’,‘East as Center’; and as featured soloist in ‘India Jazz Progressions’ and ‘Kathak at the Crossroads.’ Charlotte began dancing ballet and jazz dance at the age of nine, and embraced kathak in 1992 when she met Pandit Chitresh Das at San Francisco State University.
DANCE ORIGIN: North India
For this World Premiere performance, Conference in Nine, soloist Charlotte Moraga has composed a kathak solo in an unusual rhythmic cycle of nine beats. The piece is based on a beautiful segment of Farid Al Din Attar’s twelfth-century sufi poem, Conference of the Birds, a tale of spiritual awakening:
Three birds embark on a long, arduous journey of self-discovery, and are asked to give up their precious possessions. The nightingale must relinquish her beloved rose. The peacock is banished from paradise and hopes to show off his true colors. The proud hawk must relinquish the security of his perch on the king’s arm. These birds, along with many others, start out stubborn and foolish, but once they let go, the wondrous serendipity of life begins.
Kathak is one of India’s eight classical dance forms. It was a Hindu devotional form, danced to narrate history, scriptures, the epics—the Mahabharata and Ramayana— and the Puranas of Sanskrit literature. Hindu maharajas and Muslim nawabs brought courtesans into their courts to perform this sensuous dance, and in the 1800’s kings and feudal overlords presented it as both entertainment and classical art.
Charlotte Moraga dances her story eloquently, presenting kathak’s three traditional elements. Nritta is the technical aspect of rhythmic virtuosity; nritya is dance with expression; and natyam is gestured storytelling. She dances in the style of kathak’s Lucknow gharana—the Lucknow school from Northern India—said to have developed with Wajid Ali Shah’s court dancer Thakur Prasadji. This form has been passed down through the centuries through the guru-shishya parampara tradition to Charlotte through Thakur Prasadji’s nephews and disciples, to Ram Narayan Misra and Prohlad Das, and finally, through her guru, Pandit Chitresh Das. Conference in Nine honors kathak’s Muslim influence: the story is mystical Islamic, and the silk costumes reflect the traditional Muslim agharkhar style.
This piece is performed with a nine beat taal (rhythmic cycle) accompaniment, composed and played by saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan, Ben Kunin, and Samrat Kakkeri. For the dance of each bird, the music has three rhythmic sections, ending with specific bundishes (compositions). We can hear rhythmic bols (syllables) sounding out the peacock’s voice: Tari tari ta, Koo Koo tari ta....and then heavier pakawaj bols echo the pathos of the partridge’s parting with her beloved rose. Finally, the hawk alights to ginti bols, a flurry of numbers.