“I started learning at a very young age,” says Archana Joglekar. “Even before I knew what I was learning, I was learning Kathak.”
A highly regarded dancer, film actress and teacher whose school, the Archana Nrityalaya, is now a magnet for the Indian community in Kendall Park, Joglekar is recalling her childhood in Bombay. Her mother in India, Asha Joglekar, is also a distinguished teacher of Kathak, an ancient classical dance style; and as a child crosses the frontier between walking and dancing effortlessly, without thinking, the little girl began to absorb Kathak’s traditions in her family home.
On Monday, Archana Joglekar will open the annual Drive East Festival produced by Navatman, Inc., headlining a weeklong celebration of Indian performing arts and giving her first full solo concert in New York City at La MaMa’s Ellen Stuart Theater. She says she owes it all to her mother. Beginning when she was 6 years old, her mother started taking her to concerts in Bombay, exposing her to Russian ballet as well as to the legendary maestros of Indian dance. Joglekar took classes alongside her mother when the older woman studied with her own gurus — the scholarly dance master Pandit Rohini Bhate and the more flamboyant Padma Shri Gopi Krishna, plus the accompanist Ramdas Sharma, a virtuoso of the pakhwaj drum.
She also followed her mother’s guidance in shaping her style, which Joglekar describes as blending the virtues of three of the major schools, or “garanas,” of Kathak. From the Lucknow school, she took the graceful bend of the torso; from the Jaipur school, its scintillating footwork; and from the Benares school, its intricate composition and mercurial spins.
“Whatever she wanted to say, she said it through me and through my dance,” Joglekar says, referring to her mother. “Through me she evolved a complete Kathak style. I’m truly like her product.”
Asha Joglekar was not satisfied, however, with producing a well-rounded technician. She wanted her daughter to become a creative artist. So when the girl was 15, her mother encouraged her to begin choreographing her own dances. The occasion was Guru Purnima, a holiday observed on the full moon in July, when students and disciples honor their teachers, bringing them gifts of flowers and sweets.
“From 7 o’clock in the morning till 10 o’clock at night, the disciples would be pouring in,” Joglekar recalls. “But my Mom said, ‘I don’t want all these materialistic things from you.’ She said, ‘Whatever knowledge I have given to you, you use that knowledge. Use that vocabulary and create something on your own — a new creation — and give that to me as a gift.’ ”
Joglekar says that with her mother’s blessing, she felt free to explore contemporary situations. For instance, the expressive “abhinaya” number she will present on Monday takes a humorous look at two newlyweds ironing out their differences. “The husband-and-wife relationship is so universal, it has great mass appeal,” she says. “Any person can relate to those emotions.”
The other portions of her program re-interpret time-honored themes. After the opening invocation, Joglekar will present a suite of dances describing episodes from the life of Krishna. With accompanying songs written by the 15th-century poet and devotee Saint Surdas, the dancer will dramatize the story of Krishna’s miraculous birth in prison, foiling his wicked uncle Kamsa’s attempts to kill the infant who is fated to overthrow him. She will tell a story from Krishna’s childhood, in which the young god defeats and banishes the serpent Kaliya, who has poisoned the waters of the Yamuna River. Finally she will represent Krishna in maturity, counseling the warrior Arjuna to accept his destiny and embrace the cause of righteousness, battling his relatives in the Kurukshetra War.
Joglekar will also present a pure-dance segment displaying her mastery of complex rhythms and featuring the percussive footwork and spins for which Kathak is renowned. Before the program’s light-hearted finale, she will offer an unusual form of the so-called “Gat Nikas,” a type of dance in which a Kathak dancer adopts a characteristic gait — the way Krishna strolls while he plays his flute, for instance, or the way Radha walks, carrying a pot on her head.
In her number “Mayur Pankh,” however, Joglekar will demonstrate the gait of India’s national bird, the peacock. Although the dance is only five minutes long, Joglekar makes it sound elaborate. Her movements will portray the onset of the Monsoon, from the rumble of thunder and the first drops of rain to a shower that draws a sweet fragrance from the soil.
“That’s the time when the peacock opens his feathers and dances,” she says.
The Drive East Festival of Indian Performing Arts runs Aug. 10-16. For information and tickets, visit driveeastnyc.org.