On stage she exudes the poise of an enchantress, whose fluid motions and divine stances could sway you away on a fantastical ride, but in person she is the epitome of humility. When dancers are known for their haughty tantrums, her friendly demeanour may even come as a pleasant surprise. Slender, tall and all of 28, Manisha Gulyani, a versatile Kathak dancer with a solid body of work to her credit, talks about her undying passion for dance.
“I can express myself better through dance. So I feel that Manisha is dance. It is a passion that started at a very young age so dance has been a part of my life ever since I could remember,” says Manisha.
Manisha, the current head of Amity School of Performing Arts, Rajasthan, is in the city to facilitate a dance workshop conducted by Noopura Institute of Classical Dance and Music for dance lovers.
It was her father who ushered her into dancing at the age of seven. Easily swooned by the spectacular dancing world introduced to her at a tender age, Manisha put her heart and soul into dancing.
“My father understood that I was artistically inclined from a very young age. We didn’t have any music or dance background, yet he felt that I had it in me. He took me to Jaipur Kathak Kendra, where I have learnt the basics of Jaipur Gharana from Rajkumar Javda, who was one of the senior Gurus of the institute,” quips Manisha. Manisha was always praised for her perfect footworks and rhythmic nuances by her Guru at the Kathak Kendra, which prompted her to tone up her skills and excel in her art. But it was her rendezvous with Pt. Girdhari Maharaj, a world renowned Kathak exponent that changed Manisha’s life forever. Seeing Manisha’s craft Pt. Girdhari Maharaj took her under his wings and made her his disciple instantly. She learnt the intricacies of Jaipur Gharana Kathak under him.
“When Pt. Girdhari Maharaj made me his disciple I realised that I didn’t want to do anything else but dance. Since then I have disregarded all my other studies and concentrated on dance. I have done my MA in dance,” Manisha recounts. She is also learning Hindustani rhythms under the tutelage of renowned Hindustani musician Pt. Udai Mazumdar.
This danceuse was showered with myriad accolades including Ministry of HRD’s junior scholarship, Ministry of Culture’s senior scholarship and Jaipur Kathak Kendra’s merit scholarship. She has also earned the title of ‘Nritya Nipun’ from Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyapeeth.
Manisha who has been predominantly following Jaipur Gharana style, is on an experimenting spree these days. She is trying to find the feminine aspects of Jaipur Gharana, a male-oriented Kathak school derived from Tandav (Lord Shiva’s dance), and is working on a piece with the feminine compositions. She has recently dabbled with sufi and Darwish dance and adapted their style into Kathak dancing.
“I have incorporated almost all the Sufi poetry written by the Sufi Sants in Indian classical music and designed a Kathak piece by integrating Darwish dance movements. It has come out beautifully. The audience loved it. The presentation of dance is transforming day-by-day so we have to move with the flow. I love the contemporary movements that come into the artform and I want to be a part of it,” says Manisha.
According to her Kathak is a two-dimensional artform that needs constant updating. Though she belongs to the Jaipur Gharana, she feels that the division between the schools (Jaipur, Benares, Lucknow and Raigarh) is not meaningful at this point of time.
“We adapt the best of each schools in our work. Kathak is 70 % improvised and 30% structured. You have to be completely immersed in the beauty of it, then only you can do any sort of improvisation. Nowadays, even if we are hailing from different gharanas we are all dancing to the same style,” she says.
Manisha sees the reality shows and Bollywood as good promoters of dance, as they reach each and every household of India and teach them one or two things about classical Indian dance. She feels that if the family is supportive enough, any one who has the will to pursue dance as a career, can very well do so. She credits her better half for all her success after marriage.