The roll of dice


A new dance performance merges classical dance and music through an ancient game of Ludo

Kathak danseuse Shama Bhate has internalised the idea of swarr, the seamless musical note since she was four years old – the happy result of which has been a 35-year-long career in the dance form. Fondly known as Shamatai, the artist wanted to experiment by putting the ancient dance in a more contemporary setting. Using the age-old game of chaupal, more commonly known as ludo, Bhate has choreographed a performance on a 360 degree stage, with 12 of her disciples.

The hour-long performance titled Chaturang Ki Chaupal will see the jugalbandi between dancers taking on the persona of four musical notes. Yaman, Jaijaywanti, Adana, and Bhairavi, that make-up the old musical form of Chaturang, are presented as separate characters, competing and challenging one another playfully. “The choreography takes elements from the game, literature, and from Hindustani classical music, to tell a story about us, humans, who play a part on the world stage,” explains Bhate.

The biggest inspiration for Bhate has been conversation she shared had with Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaji. The dance maestro spoke to Bhate about performing on a chauraha (square) amidst a crowd. “I remember him telling me how somebody screamed out to him, “Maharaj, ek tukdaa yahaan pe bhi dena(Maharaj, throw us a morsel here too),’ as he rotated from north, south, east, and west, trying to please everybody,” shares Bhate. The production drawing from this memory then, is one of its kind, with the stage at the centre of the audience, as opposed to being in front of them.

Bhate’s dance institute, the Pune-based Nadroop will be performing this for the first time with the 360-degree set-up, even though the production came was realised last year. “The dancers have to be very conscious of their space and the area that they’re occupying. During practice, I hover around them from all angles, which is the most challenging part about Chaturang Ki Chaupal,” says Bhate. Taking each consecutive week off to internalise the routine, the dancers have a daily practice routine of from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during their week.

Bhate has also helped compose the music alongside Kedar Pandit. According to Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, the head of dance curation at NCPA, the production is as much a celebration of music, and theatre, as it is about dance. “We’re trying to attract people who are interested in either all, or one of these art forms,” she says.

Even though Bhate boasts about being rather traditional in her practice, she stresses on the importance of trying new things. Last month, she challenged her students to come up with a 25-minute dance, using any music, and costumes of their choice. “I don’t want to bind them to my traditional methods because it comes in the way of fluidity,” she explains.

Chaturang Ki Chaupal will take place on July 29, 6.30 p.m., at the Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point; for more details see


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