Antonia Minnecola and Zakir Hussain
NATIONAL/ETHNIC IDENTITY: India
First appearance in SF EDF: 2017
Websites: kathakar.com; zakirhussain.com
Antonia Minnecola is one of a few American artists recognized as a serious exponent of kathak dance. She is the disciple of the late kathak luminary Sitara Devi, widely considered the greatest female kathak dancer of our time, beginning her study with her Guruji under the auspices of two American Institute of Indian Studies fellowships. Twice a recipient or the Marin Arts Council Individual Artist Grants for Choreography, Antonia began her training in kathak with Pandit Chitresh Das at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, where she also studied classical Hindustani music with the great maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and a serious study of taal, the rhythmic science of Indian performing arts, with Ustad Allarakha. Antonia has performed and toured with Zakir Hussain’s Masters of Percussion since 2012, and she’s appeared in India, the USA, and Canada in major tours, and in festivals, including Other Minds; The World Drum Festival; Asian Pacific Performing Arts Festival; Percussion Currents; SF Jazz, Montreal Jazz, and Auckland Festivals; Morocco’s Sacred Music Festival; and Jacob’s Pillow.
Zakir Hussain, the preeminent classical tabla virtuoso of our time, is a national treasure in his native India and one of the world’s most esteemed and influential musicians, renowned for his genre-defying collaborations. Zakir is a Grammy-award winner and recipient of countless honors, an international phenomenon who is one of India’s most renowned cultural ambassadors. He is a favorite accompanist for the greatest musicians and dancers of India. Zakir is also a chief architect of the World Music movement, collaborating with many musicians, including Shakti, Remember Shakti, Masters of Percussion, the Diga Rhythm Band, Planet Drum, Tabla Beat Science, Sangam with Charles Lloyd and Eric Harland, in trio with Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer and, most recently, with Herbie Hancock. He has composed music for film, and for tabla and orchestra, and he lectures and teaches widely.
DANCE ORIGIN: North India
CHOREOGRAPHER/SOLOIST: Antonia Minnecola
MUSICIANS: Pritam Bhattacharjee (vocals), Zakir Hussain (tabla), Sabir Khan (sarangi)
Photo of Antonia Minnecola by Carl Sermon
Photo of Zakir Hussain by Jim McGuire
Kathakaar presents kathak soloist Antonia Minnecola in an improvised and traditional repertoire and close rhythmic conversation with tabla master Zakir Hussain.
Antonia’s performance presents two aspects of kathak dance: nritta, the aspect of pure dance; and nritya, the storytelling aspect, rendered in song, nuanced mime, and delicately powerful bhava or kathak expression called abhinaya. In the song—as taught to the dancer by Guruji Sitara Devi of the Benares gharana—Lord Krishna and the milkmaid Radha are in Vrindavan, Krishna’s childhood garden. The song simultaneously names and describes techniques and aspects of the kathak style as Krishna, Radha, and friends dance and engage in raas leela, the dance of Divine Love. The pure dance section shows the dancer’s subtle, vigorous movement, rhythmic expression and improvisation, intricate footwork, parhant recitation, fixed compositions, and exhilarating chakkar spins.
Kathak is the Hindustani classical dance of North India, a dynamic style that continues to refine and evolve within its ancient and medieval legacies. Among India’s classical dance forms, it is unique in its deep connection to both Hinduism and Islam. The word “kathak” comes from the word “katha” meaning “storytelling.” The storytelling aspect of the dance was propagated by kathaks or kathakaars who lived in or near temples and rendered the ancient, timeless mythologies of Hinduism. The dance was influenced by the bhakti movement and is called Natwari Nritya, Lord Krishna’s Dance. The Mogul invasions of the 12th to 16th centuries brought a different culture and dress into India and also to dance. It also brought the distinction of secularism and kathak flourished at both Hindu and Muslim courts.
Kathak dance is known for its spontaneous and precise rhythmic exchanges between dancer and drummer, and musicians who focus on every aspect of the dance. This performance was accompanied by a world-class musical ensemble, led by Zakir Hussain playing the tabla, North India’s classical two-piece concert drum and kathak’s main accompanying instrument. He was joined by vocalist Pritam Bhattacharjee, and Sabir Khan playing sarangi.
Hindustani classical music, one of the world’s major music systems, had its origins in the chants of the Sanskrit shlokas, couplets or prayers recited in the temples. About seven hundred years ago, the music of North India went through a major transformation, as Hindu devotional music and melodic systems were fused with aspects of Persian and Arabic music as a result of Islamic conquests in North India, and chants combined with Sufi songs. In the confluence of traditions, a new style emerged, now the dominant North Indian classical music of today.
Hindustani music keeps the tradition of religious neutrality prevalent in Sufism: Muslim ustads may sing compositions in praise of Hindu deities, and vice versa. Both the vocalist and sarangi player in this performance represent the Hindustani style, and the music for the dance—based in a melodic mode known as raga—draws from this tradition. Sabir Khan played the sarangi, a bowed instrument with three main strings and thirty-six sympathetic strings. In the nritta pure dance segment he maintained the lehra, a melody that repeatedly demonstrates the rhythm cycle, and in the nritya storytelling segment his instrument accompanies vocalist Pritam Bhattacharjee and elaborates melodically on the emotional aspects of the song.
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