by Sara Jaffri

Last Saturday, an audience of family, friends and community members gathered at the York Woods Public Library to see performances by Odissi dancer Mukur De, the Toronto Tabla Ensemble and the TTE Youth Ensemble. This was the second show of three in the Toronto Table Ensemble intimate concert series running from February to May.

The evening began with Odissi dance, an ancient art form originating in the Eastern Indian state of Odisha. Odissi is nearly two thousand years old, but its practice today challenges the misunderstood notion of ‘traditional’ culture being incompatible with modern times. Indeed, Mukur De keeps Odissi current and relevant to today’s generation through the teaching and choreography of dance at the Pallavi Arts Centre in Mississauga.

Mukur De began training in dance as a three year old, and studied under the tutelage of several legendary teachers and gurus of the Odissi tradition. One such legend includes the late Sanjukta Panigrahi, who performed in the past at Nritya Bharati. This school of music and dance was founded by TTE Artistic Director Ritesh Das’ parents in Kolkata.
Perhaps in recognition of this shared history and deep connection, Mukur De dedicated her performance to Ritesh Das’ brother, the renowned kathak dancer Pandit Chitresh Das, who passed away earlier this year.

In the course of her performance, Mukur De both humbled and mesmerized her audience. Following a traditional Odissi repertoire, Mukur De led us through an invocatory dance known as Mangalacharan, through which she paid homage to Lord Jagannath, prayed to the Goddess Durga and offered salutations to Mother Earth, her teachers and the audience members. Mukur De then performed Pallavi (blossoming), a dance in which the pace of eye movements, gestures and footwork intertwine with that of the music, and together build towards a crescendo.

Next, Mukur De presented the Abhinaya, a dance in which stories are communicated through graceful and sensual movements. Mukur De chose to perform an enactment of Lord Vishnu’s 10 incarnations, the story of which is taken from the poet Jayadeva’s epic, Gita Govinda. Mukur De’s closing routine was the dance of Moksha, literally meaning ‘spiritual liberation’, in which the dance emulates the soul’s transcendental journey of deliverance. This section was marked by beautiful and subtle gestures and movements, along with the hum of the sacred sound of the ‘Om’.

After a brief intermission, the Toronto Tabla Ensemble took the stage, along with new performers from the TTE Youth Ensemble who have made their debut through the intimate concert series. The senior and youth ensemble members together began with Take Tere Kite Take, in which the title phrase is repeated in various speeds and rhythms, transforming from simple phrasing to more complex variations and culminating in an exciting series of tihais performed by the senior students.
Up next were two compositions featuring the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, starting with Qaeda-Rela, a powerful piece that demonstrates the logic of qaeda (system) and rela (flow). Following this was Casual, which performer Razak Pirani wittily yet accurately introduced as ‘not so casual at all’. Starting off only on the left hand bayan drum, Casual is teasingly and deceptively simple, until it evolves into something quite the opposite.

The Youth Ensemble members returned to the stage to perform Sare Panch, or 5 and a half. Razak demonstrated what a rhythmic cycle in five and a half beats sounds like by counting out loud each beat (and a half), while the rest of the ensemble recited the theka, or groove. At a certain point, youth members disengaged from playing and began to keep time through the traditional method of counting and clapping, while senior members continued to play increasingly complicated phrases.
While the final piece was introduced and concluded by the entire ensemble, the main composition, Dha Terekite Dha Ge Na, featured an exclusive performance by the Youth Ensemble members.

The Toronto Tabla Ensemble and TTE Youth Ensemble collectively kept the audience engaged and maintained a seamless transition between various roles onstage. By elegantly departing from and resuming in recitation, time-keeping and performance as appropriate, each performer displayed an excellent spirit of camaraderie, as well as an impressive sense of discipline that is so vital in the tabla tradition.

A whole lot more excitement and partnership lies around the corner in April; Mukur De’s dance classes are open for enrolment and will be starting at the Toronto Tabla Centre for Indian Arts, while the Toronto Tabla Ensemble is next performing with Japanese taiko drumming group Nagata Shachu on April 11th at the Harbourfront Centre.
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