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Gauri Sharma Tripathi - 'Vyuha'

by Lyndsey Winship

May 4, 2004 -- Royal Festival Hall, Purcell Room, London

"Just exquisite," sighs the woman sitting next to me as Gauri Sharma Tripathi presses her palms together and bows her head, acknowledging our applause. The woman later tells me that she had never been a fan of Kathak dancing, preferring its softer south Indian cousin Bharata Natyam to Kathak's more masculine moves. But then she saw Tripathi dance and became a convert.

Tripathi builds on traditional Kathak with her own unique approach and personality. She is a beautiful dancer, combining the crowd-pleasing fast spins and stamping soles with lyrical, fluid phrases and an incredibly expressive face. Her pleasure in performance is infectious and the feeling of goodwill between dancers, musicians and audience is tangible.

Tripathi has danced and choreographed for stage and television around the world. She organized last year's Indian extravaganza, Escapade on the South Bank, with 120 dancers performing to a crowd of four thousand, and was the first Indian dancer to perform at Westminster Abbey -- a true ambassador for her art. She has also worked with fellow Kathakars Akram Khan, Dominic Gabella and Sandeep Bhagwati.

In this tour, she performs five dance pieces with virtuosic musical interludes showcasing the expert ensemble, in particular Sanju Sahai on tabla and vocalist Chandra Chakravorty. The dances include stories, celebrations and rhythmic studies. "Dhamar," for example, is a piece based on a 14-beat cycle, where in repetition every ending feels like a beginning. Tripathi matches the intricate tala beat for beat with her own crescendo-ing phrases. With ankle bells shimmering above her impossibly quick feet, it's gripping.

"Vyuha," the title piece, was choreographed by Tripathi's mother and guru, Padma Sharma, and tells the tale of Uma, who casts herself upon a sacrificial pyre in a final act of loyalty to her husband Shiva. Tripathi recreates Uma’s immolation with her hands as flames first quivering, then licking, then spiralling up her body.

Though some of the nuances of the story may be lost to those not fluent in the language of Kathak, Tripathi's mastery of emotion, poise and character in her movement is utterly enchanting.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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