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Tabla sets rhythm for Indian classical dance performance

Furious stomping feet, legs turning a delicate pattern, a rhythmic body twirling, fabric flowing behind. In perfect symmetry with this dance is a tabla, an Indian classical double drum set that was first introduced to Western popular music by The Beatles on their seminal album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Mills professor Nalini Ghuman recently organized the riveting Indian Classical dance performance for her class The Music of India. This specific class was a cross-fertilization between the music and dance departments at Mills and is reflective of the symbiotic relationship between rhythm and dance in Kathak, the school of dance that was performed for an attentive group of students and guests Apr. 2.

Ghuman emphasized the importance of the relationship between rhythm and dance in a lecture that followed the performance, explaining that Sonia Mann, the performing Kathak dancer, suggesting having tabla player Ferhan Qureshi accompany her.

“Music and dance are inextricably linked in India,” she explained. “It’s great that the two arts came together in the Kathak presentation and that we had so many students and faculty from the dance department join us.”

Mann articulated her delight with the performance, saying, “It was an honor for us to once again share our passion and particularly the history of this classical art form with such an appreciative audience.”

Mann has descended from a long line of dancers and can trace her lineage, or gharana, back many generations. Dance and music techniques flowing through these lineages, mixing both Hindu and Muslim cultures and lending a special importance to genealogy.

Because the dance form was once censored under British rule, its practice was limited to a few high-caste families, but has now proliferated globally, including the United States.

Ghuman agreed, saying that Indian music and dance traditions occupy a strong presence in the Bay Area, “from the Bhangra albums and chaat houses on Berkeley’s University Avenue to the classical lessons taught at the Ali Akbar College in San Rafael.”

The show was the fourth installment in a performance and lecture series that spotlighted sitar and tabla performances and was documented by the College’s audio-visual department. The fifth and final installment featured Sarod player Rajeev Taranath and took place on Apr. 18.