Katha Dance Theatre is Minnesota’s first Asian Indian dance Company, with a roster of excellent dancers and an unparalleled repertory. Its artistic director, Rita Mitra Mustaphi, founded the company in 1987.
Rita Mustaphi started Katha Dance Theatre with a vision to bring Kathak dance to American soil, explore its past, preserve the tradition, and create forward-thinking and imaginative works that expand upon the ancient tradition. Her training in Kathak dance started in Kolkata, India, at Rabindra Bharati University, from where she graduated with a degree in dance. She also obtained a degree in Physiology from the University of Calcutta. After college, she underwent intensive training under Pandit Vijai Shankar and eventually became a disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj, the legendary master artist in Kathak dance. She also studied Indian classical vocal music and sitar.
At 20 years old, Rita left India to join her husband Kalyan Mustaphi, an electrical engineer, in US. The year was 1970. She started performing and later teaching informally after receiving requests from community leaders. In 1987, she achieved her dream by starting a dance organization that included a professional company and a school of Kathak dance. She envisioned an American Kathak dance company where dancers could be trained in traditional Kathak style of Indian classical dances and the company would perform new, repertory, traditional, innovative as well as collaborative performances for American audiences.
Katha Dance Theatre’s initial years had their share of struggle and frustrations. The company was faced with challenges such as dancing barefoot on carpeted floor, having a tornado halt a performance, and dealing with the many challenges inherent in starting a non-profit organization. However, Rita and Kalyan Mustaphi’s loyal devotion to their work helped them overcome these struggles.
A Dream Realized
From 1988 onward, KDT has consistently created annual season performances, run the year-long Kathak dance school and its annual spring concert, conducted summer intensive classes led by Rita and visiting master artists such as Pandit Vijai Shankar, Pandit Sontosh Maharaj, and the late Pandit Birju Maharaj, and introduced world-class artists such as Saswati Sen, Durga Arya-Krüger and Ustad Zakir Hussain to Minnesota.
The rest, as they say, is history. KDT earned the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts’ first local commission to a dance company. Rita was invited to be part of the troupe of Pandit Birju Maharaj that performed at Carnegie Hall in New York. Rita and KDT have been invited to perform at several Kathak festivals in New Delhi, India. The company has also appeared in major cities of the United States and Canada, including numerous appearances in Minnesota.
Currently, the company has 8 dancers and 5 apprentices. It has a repertory of over 50 works, all of which are principally choreographed by Rita Mustaphi. It has a St. Louis Park-based school with an enrollment of over 100 aspiring dancers from throughout the Twin Cities area. Each of its classes is taught by a KDT company dancer and features authentic Kathak education of the highest quality.
Under Rita Mustaphi’s direction, KDT has shaped and re-shaped the Kathak landscape for close to 35 years. It remains dedicated to preserving Kathak dance and pushing the form’s boundaries in an effort to make innovative, inclusive works. In so doing, KDT provides an essential cultural lifeline to all who wish to learn and perform Kathak thousands of miles from its place of origin.