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Anjani Ambegaokar

Analysis of "Soul to Sole", a collaboration of Kathak-Tap-Flamenco.

Ambegaokar, Anjani : "Analysis of "Soul to Sole", a collaboration of Kathak-Tap-Flamenco", 14th International Congress on Dance Research, Aridaia, Greece, 13-17/9, 2000.

Ten years ago I had a dream of bringing the three dance forms together that emphasise and highlight the intricate foot rhythms with shoes and ankle bells. The three forms that I was interest in working were Kathak (my own dance style) with Flamenco and Tap. It took ten long years for me to persuade a presenting organization to take on the project believing in my credibility without any idea of how the project would look. I was fortunate to find the CerritosCenter for the Performing Arts to make this project part of their season for the year 1999-2000. The collaboration was titled "Soul to Sole" and I invited Lynn Daly and her Jazz Tap Ensemble and Adam And Laila Del Monte's Flamenco group to join us in this unique project. It premiered on April 22, 2000. To begin with, there was some question about the title from the presenter due to the cultural connotation of the word 'soul', but all three artistic directors of the project were very convinced that the title was very appropriate for the work, so we agreed to include 'world dance' in the title to accommodate the presenter.

I had a definite idea about how the program should run. I wanted the first half of the show as three companies performing their individual work and the second half of the show would be two new works of collaboration. The first piece of the collaboration was to be a piece about feelings, movements, ideas, thoughts: it had to be lyrical. The second piece would be all about rhythms in various combinations. When we (myself, Lynn and Laila) started meeting to talk about and explore and understand each other's forms as much as possible, we came to a certain conclusion. The conclusion was that we will interpret the artistic ideas in our own forms and stay true to its artistry and not 'copy' each other's dance styles because none of us had the training of the other form or knowledge. Some of the joyous movements of the first encounters came in discovering similarities of the forms and the vast differences in how we foresee and hear rhythms and project them with our feet. The real work of exchanging choreographic ideas started after the initial excitement of appreciating each other's forms started to take certain shapes. Three of us decided to title the two new works as 'Journey' and 'celebration.'

We attempted to work on the idea of journey for several sessions, with various ideas flowing through our minds about what the journey should be about. As the weeks passed by, we felt that we could not even begin to agree on how to open the piece. One of the rehearsal days as we started to feel uneasy about the delays, I suggested that we should start with the celebration piece and hopefully come back to the journey; surprisingly it was agreed upon very quickly. Of course we all knew that the finale would be every one being on the stage and several trades would take place between dancers and musicians and we would conclude in a harmoniums high energy rhythmic piece together. Laila had liked a Kathak piece called 'Tihai', usually performed at the end of a short or long rhythmic composition, in Kathak that is a repetitious sets of three of the same variation, so with various discussions we decided to keep it as the ending. 0! So we had an ending to the show. I had an idea of a duet of my principal Kathak dancer, Amrapali, with a male Tap dancer, Lynn agreed to the idea. Then a duet of myself and Lynn, the two artistic directors together, a duet of Laila with a male tap dancer, and a group of 4 each of flamenco and Kathak dancers.

As we began (myself and Lynn) the choreography of the duet of Amrapali Ambegaokar and Tap dancer Steve Zee, my ideas were very firm about how I wanted it to look and Lynn graciously decided to back out and only to be an advisor of this process, which I appreciated a lot. My ideas of the duet were suggestively romanticized, some times as friends only, other times challenging each other with their rhythmic expertise, mostly to bring these two distinctly separate dance forms together with the medium of a female and male Kathak and Tap dancers respectively. Amrapali had never danced with a male dancer before and being my daughter I wanted to mold the duet in a specific way. Steve started to give his feedback with his Tap expertise. Myself and Lynn had decided that Steve would be brought on the stage from stage left with three flamenco dancers and Amrapali would enter from stage right to meet him in the center of the stage with taking spins and joining in the moving foot rhythms. The flamenco dancers would leave the stage as they start to acknowledge each other with some simple rhythms of Kathak and Tap.

I felt that a link was missing and the flamenco vocalist filled the gap. Amrapali danced around Steve in various sensual suggestive moves of Kathak, accompanied by flamenco vocals. Steve was not happy about it at first because his question was 'how do you react to this, that Amrapali is doing around me because we do not have any movements in tap that would work with it?'. Mine and Amrapali's suggestion was to 'be just yourself, stand with your hands in your pocket in a stylized way would be wonderful also,' and it worked beautifully on the stage. Followed by their rhythmic challenges that some times synchronized in the triplets, ending with them dancing side by side holding each other and walking forward in Kathak style 'Chalan' graceful walks. As they broke away from each other, the Indian female vocalist sang the words that meant 'o my beloved' and Amrapali was trying to reach to Steve interpreting the words of the songs as he was moving away, he suddenly came close to her and held her hand and helped her get up and started to dance, the 'as friends only' mode came into the picture.

I had decided to use the 10 beat rhythm of 'Zaptal' to end the piece. It reads as 1 2 / 1 2 3 / 1 2 /1 2 3. Steve learned it well and came up with his own interpretation in tap. They both reacted to each other's challenges rhythmically and several intricate variation followed the format of 'Zaptal' ending with a 'Tihai' with both of them dancing together ending in a still pose. Composing music for this duet of Amrapali and Steve was one of the most difficult tasks of "Soul to sole" artistically. The complexity of relationship idea upon which the duet was based was perturbing the musicians. My explanation of each segment of the duet and what it was conveying emotionally and rhythmically took a long time for all musicians to comprehend. We could come up with musical ideas for certain segments, but not fully at once. Again Steve had some specific concept of music from the tap viewpoint that needed to be addressed. Finally with the strong musical support from Adam Del Monte, we made a bare minimum structure of the piece, and then added various instrumentation as we went along. Choreographically it was the first piece that we completed and musically it was the last piece that we could work on.

The 4 flamenco and 4 kathak dancers piece was easier to choreograph, I thought, because musically we were very sure what we wanted to achieve. Myself and Laila Del Monte did the choreography together. We began with 12 beat Allegrias both the groups interpreting the beats and singing in their own style and still matching in movements. I choreographed Kathak steps to reverse the marking steps of flamenco with the help of Amrapali who has had a couple of years of flamenco training. The second segment of the piece was a transition musically from Alegrias to 12 beat 'Aiktal' in a 'Tarana' of Hindustani music. The dancers sometimes faced each other doing movements and spins and ending the piece by exiting in opposite directions. Lynn and my duet was an idea of sheer joy of sharing the subtle nuances of intricate rhythmic trades of both the dance forms, kathak and tap. The process of creating this duet was one of the most rewarding and harmoniums one. When we both danced together the mutual admiration of each other's artistry came across, and the choreographic ideas were nurtured by each other in a very fruitful way. We began the duet with Lynn entering the stage with her Tap movements to the same 'Tarana' music of 12 beats that the dancers had left the stage with. I followed her from the opposite side of the stage in Kathak rhythmic movements. After a few trades and syncopating and finishing together with 'Tihai' Lynn started with Tap rhythm of 1 2/ 1 2/ 1 2/ 1 2 3/, 1 2/ 1 2/ 1 2/ 1 2 3/, 1 2/ 1 2/ 1 2/ 1 2 3/, 1 2 3/ 1 2 3/ 1 2 3/ , I would count that in Kathak as 18 beats 'Tal'. We approached diagonal walks, and spins together in the piece, when this segment ended I started another interesting tap rhythm which had certain Latin flavor. We worked on intricate trades in this rhythm and ended the piece with, going back to 16 beat of Indian rhythm of 'Tintal' in 'Drut' (fast) tempo as we exited the stage together. A certain free flow of movements and partially set choreography made this piece interesting for us to dance. A duet of Steve and Laila of tap and flamenco followed our piece. The duet was about intimacy, feelings and rhythmic beauty of 12 beats of flamenco and swing rhythm of tap. The finale music was composed by Jerry Kalif, the music director for Jazz Tap Ensemble. I was OK with it, but Laila did not like it at all. It had a Latin tune to it, which she did not feel comfortable to dance flamenco in. I persuaded her to look at it as a challenge as a finale and finally she did. Lynn wanted to start the finale with the Jazz Tap Ensemble only and then kathak and flamenco dancers joining them on stage. Their work looked very well with each of them improvising and setting a pace for the remaining of the piece. We had to change the choreography several times to our satisfaction, especially for myself and Laila to bring the Flamenco and Kathak Dancers on the stage after the Jazz Tap Ensemble piece. The Flamenco and Kathak dancers entered from three sides of the stage in diagonal in groups of 2,3 and 4 and myself and Laila entered together dancing to the next line of the music piece. Once we were all on the stage we decided to let every one freely feel the music with their own rhythmic expressions with shoes and ankle bells. After Jerry's music piece ended, we were all involved in some interesting rhythmic trades and we included musicians in it. For example, Roxanna of Jazz Tap with Ramesh Kumar on Tabla of the Kathak company and myself with Jerry Kalif of jazz tap. The end was the Tihai of the kathak style that all of us performed together to Indian music.

The 'Journey' piece took us to a different direction in this production. After many hours of brainstorming between the three of us, we decided to write what a journey means to us. Myself and Laila wrote what we felt about journey. It was a journey of the soul, the people, the cultures, the traditions. The journey took place on horses, by sea, by train, on foot, the journey encountered natural disaster, human torment, the joy of finding a new home and the pain of leaving one's motherland. We finally had found the basic structure of the journey. It was very important for the three of us artistically that we begin the first piece of the collaboration by dancing together on the stage. Several choreographic ideas were tossed back and forth. Spoken words of what the journey meant to us was an obvious choice of all three of us. For interpreting the movements to the spoken words came quite natural to kathak dance, and Laila expressed it in her passionate way and Lynn with her tap steps, and the piece started to take shape. As we three started to express the journey from the old country to the new country, the Indian dancers traveled on horses across the stage, followed by the Gypsies traveling on horses also, supported by the tap dancers. The Indian dancers and the tap dancers crossed in a boat facing a natural disaster of a severe storm, interpreted by Kathak dancers in a beautiful traditional song describing the storm, the flamenco dancers matched the kathak dancers in their intense expressions of the Strom as a tap dancer danced around the rhythmic sounds of the storm. The gypsies experience of persecution had to be part of the journey, which was expertly done by Laila as a solo matched with intense flamenco singing.

In our early discussions we had found out that tap and kathak had learned to improvise the sound of railroad trains, in fact there is a word in Hindustani music called 'Rela' for the rhythmic variation that has arrived from the word 'rail.' We brought the tap and kathak dancers together dancing across diagonally interpreting the idea of traveling in a train. The ending of the journey had to be a piece that conveyed the idea of artistic journey from kathak to flamenco. Myself, Laila and Amrapali performed this piece. Amrapali has 2 year of training in Flamenco and we decided to unties her training to show her as the link between kathak and flamenco. Myself and Laila matched the hand movements, body positions and footwork of kathak and flamenco, Amrapali created an imagery of both the dance forms in costumes that represent both the forms and she danced bare feet without the support of shoes or the ankle bells. The rhythmic Journey of 'Soul to Sole' was complete.

As a first experience of these three-forms together, we learned a lot from each other. How culturally different we all are and how we had to come together to make this dream come to true. I hope that we will come together again to continue the collaborative journey to other venues in the US and the world.

Anjani Ambegaokar

 

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