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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Khatak: The Black Swan

The fourth dance to be featured in the series is Khatak from India (the first dance to be featured was Ulek Mayang from Malaysia on 8/16/13). Khatak is one of the eight dance forms, acknowledged as Indian Classical Dance. It is supposed to originate from the nomadic bards of ancient Northern India. According to an article in Wikipedia the word Khatak is derived from the Sanskrit word 'khata,' which means 'story'. Classical Indian Khatak is normally performed by women.

Kathak exponent Manisha Gulyani. Pix taken from Wikipedia
But there is another form of dance also known as Katthak, which is a martial arts dance usually performed by men while carrying a shining sword and a red handkerchief... This dance is said to originate from the Khattak tribe among the Pashtuns; found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, according to an article in Wikipedia, the dance may have been brought to these countries by the army of Alexander the Great, from Bactria, Greece. While the dance may have died out in Greece, it has evolved and survived among the Pashtuns and other tribes. Looking at the picture below, even the costumes show some Greek influence.

Photo by Mazhar Faiz, taken during the Sarhad Cultural Festival in Haripur

I don't know if Khatak is derived from Khattak or if there are any connections between the two dance forms... In any case, the two dance forms were popular during the time of the Moghuls.

I was lucky to attend a performance of Khatak in Zagreb, by a group from India. The invitation came from the Embassy of India to Zagreb. It was however a modernised version of the dance, based on the Hollywood movie, The Black Swan, which starred Natalie Portman.

The dancer playing the White Swan slowly comes under the spell of the Black Swan

The dancer goes into a trance...

The White Swan is now the Black Swan

The movie is set in the high-strung world of the New York City Ballet. A beautiful and talented young dancer lands the role of Princess Odette, the White Swan, in the dance drama, Swan Lake. However, she becomes possessed by the Black Swan, Odile, and undergoes a strange transformation...

Are there similarities with Manohra? Perhaps. But Odette is under a curse while Manohra belongs to the race of Kinnara.

Strange predatory birds also come into the picture

All the dancers are now black swans...

The Khatak performance I witnessed involved quick, rhythmic footwork, dramatic poses and rapid spins. In some ways it reminded me of Spanish Flamenco and Irish line dance... The performance was lively and energetic but I felt the costumes could have done with some embellishment. After all, this is an Indian dance, where one expects nothing short of opulence...

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