Katha Dance Theatre was scheduled to perform on the Paramount stage on Friday, May 22nd, 2020. Due to the Coronavirus, the performance has been indefinitely postponed. We caught up with Rita Mustaphi, founder and artistic director for Katha Dance Theatre, to find out more about their art form what she and the dancers have been up to during this time.
Tell us a little bit about who you are and what type of performance you “normally” do. If you are the leader of an organization, tell us about what type of performance you were planning to do at the Paramount.
Hello, Paramount community! I am Rita Mustaphi, Founder and Artistic Director of Katha Dance Theatre. KDT is a professional dance company specializing in Kathak (pronounced “Kah-tahk”), a classical Indian dance form.
We had so been looking forward to performing Ritu – The Seasons for your community! Ritu is based on a poem, “Ritusamhara,” by the great poet Kalidasa, a lyrical depiction of the Indian seasonal cycle and as a choreographer and director of this work I believe that it is a perfect vehicle for Kathak’s unique blend of expressive grace, complex footwork and gestural storytelling. It depicts expressions of nature and young love thru the six seasons of India.
What is Kathak?
Native to North India, Kathak originated within Hindu temples as a storytelling device for portraying the epic tales contained within the Hindu scriptures, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Poetry was combined with rhythmic movement to aid in the worshipful storytelling. However, the stories didn’t stay within the temple walls for long. Nomadic Kathakars, or wandering storytellers, soon began carrying the dances throughout the country. They added emotions and facial expressions to their performances, further developing the dance to include elements of mime. In this way, Kathak transitioned from its secluded, devotional origins to a more accessible, multi-disciplined entertainment tradition. During the medieval period, Kathak became an established part of court culture, performed under the patronage of India’s kings and the emperors. This sealed Kathak’s transition from colloquial entertainment to classical art form. Behind palace walls, the emotional and graceful storytelling inherent in its Hindu roots combined with the more technical postures, rhythmic mathematics of Islam. The mesmerizing, precise, and pulsating footwork, as well as the graceful yet detailed carriage of the upper body, hand placements, and facial expressions demonstrate Kathak’s diverse cultural influences. Thus, Kathak developed into a strong dance tradition that incorporates elements of both Hindu and Muslim culture.
What are you and your dancers doing now that you can’t perform in front of a live (in person) audience?
We are so fortunate to be able to offer our dance classes online via Zoom – it has been wonderful to keep in contact with our students virtually. And although we’ve had to cancel some upcoming performances, we are working on making available of some past performances available on Vimeo for a limited time. We hope that these recordings will help act as a jumping off point for community-wide connections over our love of dance. Stay tuned!
Are there any new opportunities or partnerships, artistically, that have come about for you during this time?
Technology has truly been our friend during this time – we are trying to take full advantage everything it affords us, whether that’s through offering online classes, staying in contact with each other through virtual meet ups, or encouraging our students to record their home practice sessions! We’ve shared a couple of these videos on social media and the positive response from our community has been so inspiring.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Paramount online audience?
Apart from performing throughout Minnesota and the nation, Katha Dance Theatre educates dancers of all ages and abilities at our school and through a variety of community outreach programs. If you work at a community center, library, senior center, or school in St. Cloud, get in touch with us to learn more! Once we’ve flattened the curve and everything is back up and running, we would love to engage your community in dance or folk arts education. And for now, the arts are such a respite for us all when times are tough – find ways to expose yourself to as much virtual art as you can!
How can people connect with you while we are all staying at home? (Please share website, social media handles, etc.)