•”The last and final performance was intriguing to begin with. How could Tagore’s immortal Chitrangadha be performed in the Kuchipudi style? And yet it was done, and how! The event, supported by the Tagore Society, Singapore, saw a wonderful performance by well known dancer Amrita Lahiri. Interspersed with monologues and shortened to suit the time frame, its music remained true to Tagore throughout. The style of dance alone was Kuchipudi and yet it all gelled perfectly. It was as much a tribute to the skill of the dancer/choreographer as it was to Tagore.”
“With an attractive stage presence, young and sprightly Amrita succeeds in highlighting the Vempati bani admirably with quicksilver movements and elegant postures. She strives to imbibe the spirit of the dance form that challenges her to rise to great artistic heights. With command over technique, Amrita has carved a niche for herself as a brilliant Kuchipudi exponent. Her interpretation of Chitrangada in a solo narrative form was further embellished with brevity and selection of appropriate verses which had a natural flow along with both Bengali and English prose passages. The tillana with ‘Esho Shyamalo sundaro’ in Desh raga concluded her solo rendering.”
• If the slight, slim figure of Amrita Lahiri presenting Kuchipudi managed to hold audience attention in this crowded setting, it derived from proficient dancing and excellently balanced wing support with Guru Mosalikanti conducting in musical and clear-toned nattuvangam and Srikant’s mellifluous singing with mridangam (Ramakrishna Babu) and flute (Muttu Kumar) in harmony.
‘…The fact that this change has been achieved in a city whose dominant rasas are business and Bollywood is significant. It all began in 2010 when Kuchipudi dancer and head of NCPAs newly formed dance department, Amrita Lahiri and her team began to organise a steady stream of performances and interactions. The number of performances went up from one or two each month to about 5 and even 7 some months over the next two years. The programming aimed for a mix of styles and levels with young as well as established dancers. There was a deliberate attempt to offer some programmes that would please a connoisseur and some that would specifically pull in new audiences. “The strategy was simple – present only the highest quality, and publicise it widely. The aim was simply to present high-quality art – regardless of classical, contemporary, Indian or international”, says Lahiri.
There were lecture demonstrations with gurus, dance residencies, master classes and even month long yoga and Kalaripayettu sessions. Lecture demonstrations for school children and the free monthly Umang series showing upcoming dancers from around the country were specially effective.
How did she know there was an audience out there? “I knew simply the power of the dance that we were presenting. I knew that Bombay has a taste for unusual and intelligent performances, and that any one who gives high-quality dance a chance, can’t resist its appeal!”, says Lahiri who has since left the NCPA.