Toronto Tabla Ensemble Launches Innovative New Festival
by Lise Watson
The sold out audience at the Toronto Tabla Ensemble’s inaugural Indian Diaspora Festival on Friday, August 15th , at the cozy Palmerston Library Theatre, were treated to a very special night indeed. Razak Pirani, proudly ‘made in Canada’, opened with a solid and riveting tabla solo.
The exquisite Rina Mehta, soon blew in on a California breeze to join Pirani and delight and educate us in the art of North Indian kathak dance.
Pirani, a protégé of Ensemble and Festival founder Ritesh Das, is someone to watch. He is serious and masterful in his technique, if slightly parsimonious in his verbal discourse (no worries, this will develop over time!). Mehta, a highly respected disciple of the kathak sensation, Pandit Chitresh Das, has bountiful gifts not only in her dance craft, but also as a teacher. Her explanations of the rhythmic cycles in the music and the stories behind the songs, and hers and Razak’s demonstration of the close relationship between musician and dancer were fascinating and made accessible to all. But then, this has long been an important part of the mandate of Ritesh Das and his ensemble, to bring Indian music to all, be us Indian-born, of Indian heritage, or completely non-Indian in origin.
After 23 years of experimenting with and exploring connections amongst many music traditions of the world, Das has refocused his efforts on bringing a ‘back to basics’ approach to his performance repertoire. His new vision also includes an emphasis on classical Indian music and dance as seen through the lens of the diasporic experience. Indian art forms have touched virtually every corner of the world, intoxicating and inspiring new performers of all stripes. Das has seized this moment to celebrate and showcase these artists and their new found forms of expression in all their glory.
Das himself is a hybrid of sorts. Born into an artistic family in Kolkata, India, Das’ tabla training began in India but later carried over in California where he became a disciple of Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.
The Indian Diaspora Festival, the first of what he hopes will become a larger annual event, is a wonderful first step for Das in fulfilling a dream. On Friday, we celebrated the North American diasporic experience, and tomorrow, who knows? The possibilities for the Toronto Tabla Ensemble seem endless, and the audience is clearly here, hungry for more.
Lise Watson is the editor, publisher and founder of TWAS – Toronto World Arts Scene. www.twasonline.com