Thinking on your feet will take on a whole new meaning at the NCPA this weekend. Emmy-winning tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith will match steps with kathak exponent Seema Mehta in a show that is 90% improvised.
“We have a rhythmic structure, which means we have decided which taals we will perform to, but what happens within that is different every time we practise,” says Mehta. “The idea is to confuse each other, challenge each other, and push ourselves to be more imaginative each time. We play off each others’ energies.”
Mehta has trained under late Pandit Chitresh Das, who spent about a decade touring the world in collaboration with Smith, after a chance encounter at an American dance festival in 2004.
Tap dancing and kathak are both “heavily percussive” forms of dance, says Mehta. Both use the dancer’s feet as instruments. The difference is that while kathak dancers perform barefoot, with ghungroos, tap dancers wear metal-soled shoes. “Also, kathak denotes a very literal form of storytelling, usually mythological,” she says.
Putting two art forms together depends largely on the artistes says Smith. “To take the rhythmic dance form of one people and pair it with another is about having a dialogue between the two individuals, and challenges the art forms to create something greater. When you’re improvising, the rules fade. You go where your imagination takes you.”
An improvised collaboration involves a lot of mind-games, he adds. “You push the boundaries of your focus and imagination; you play with the other artiste; with the audience; even with the universe.”
Mehta will open the show with a piece called Shiv Vandana, a story about Radha and Krishna. The dancers will perform solo acts, followed by a raw exchange. The ensemble includes Sabir Khan on tabla, Debashis Sarkar on vocals, Jayanta Banerjee on sitar and ID Rao on the saxophone.
This is Smith’s 15th trip to India in 10 years. “I am humbled and honoured to be back, with the opportunity to represent my art form and culture,” Smith says. “I’m particularly excited because the NCPA is a great venue, and the Tata Theatre has a super floor.”
What should you expect at the show? “The unexpected,” says Smith. “The show will be as much a surprise for us as it will be for the audience.”
What: Rhythm Rewritten — Kathak meets Tap, a collaboration between tap dancer Jason Samuel Smith and kathak exponent Seema Mehta
When: January 21, 7 pm
Where: Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point
Entry fee: Tickets start at Rs 500, visit Bookmyshow.com