On January 17, the world lost a monumental figure in the world of Kathak dance.
We are devastated to share that Kathak legend Pandit Birju Maharaj has passed away at the age of 83. In addition to being one of the most revered Kathak artists of all time, Pandit Birju Maharaj was also the longtime guru of Rita Mustaphi and had a huge artistic impact on KDT. We were honored to have him as a visiting master teacher over the years, but the world will remember him for his incomparable talent, wisdom, artistry and leadership.
In the weeks to come, we hope to more formally memorialize the great Pandit Birju Maharaj. For now, the entire KDT family can think back on its personal memories of the Kathak guru and the lasting impression he made on the world of dance, taking comfort in the fact that he will live on through his artistic legacy.
UPDATE: We’re thrilled to share that Shaamya – Of Equality was named one of the top 10 Twin Cities dance performances in 2021 by the Minneapolis Star Tribune! We’re so honored to be included among these talented dance artists. Read the entire list here.
Crystal, MN – Katha Dance Theatre (KDT) has announced the world premiere of Shaamya – Of Equality, their latest collaboration with composer J.D. Steele. The event will take place at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN on November 19 – 21, 2021. It is choreographed by Rita Mustaphi, KDT’s Artistic Director, and features original poetic contributions from artist and playwright Ifrah Mansour.
Inspired by the poetry of writer and activist Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), Of Equality attempts to draw parallels between the experiences of today’s communities of color and those expressed by Nazrul Islam back in the early 20th century. Using a mixture of dance, music, and spoken word poetry, it juxtaposes past and present fights for racial, cultural and gender equity.
Through his writing and activism, Nazrul Islam shared his anger about and attempted to find solutions to various forms of oppression. By enacting his ideas decades after his death, Of Equality demonstrates that this great writer’s work is relevant to today’s artistic and political climates, transcending time and place.
With her choreography, Rita Mustaphi aims to seamlessly blend the various cultural and thematic ideas at play into a cohesive dance piece incorporating traditional Kathak idioms. Of Equality is just one in a long line of original works choreographed by Rita over the course of KDT’s three-decade history. Her work’s quality speaks for itself, having won her three McKnight Fellowships for choreography, a 2011 Lifetime Achievement award from the India Association of Minnesota, a 2012 Education award from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, and a 2021 Nari Shakti Award for Women’s Empowerment from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.
Equality will be set to a live rendition of original compositions by Twin Cities musical legend J.D. Steele, with whom KDT previously collaborated back in 2013 on the critically acclaimedKarna – The Abandoned Hero. Steele, an accomplished musician who has performed with Prince, Mavis Staples, and others, will be accompanied by pianist Billy Steele and vocalist Jevetta Steele, as well as drum artist Abhinav Sharma. J.D. Steele’s compositions include elements of North Indian, East African and African American musical styles. They were also inspired by taals, which are rhythm cycles used in North Indian classical music and dance. His intent as composer is for all of these elements to unify in support of the dancers’ performance.
Equality will also include written contributions by Somali poet and playwright Ifrah Mansour, who will perform the poem “I am a Refugee” onstage alongside Mustaphi and Steele. Mansour is perhaps best known for her autobiographical play How to Have Fun in a Civil War, which details her memories of her childhood in war-torn Somalia.
Contributions from dancers of multiethnic backgrounds will fill out the show, including ballet, flamenco, tap, and hip-hop. Incorporating cross-cultural artistic and narrative elements within a classical Indian dance performance is in keeping with Rita Mustaphi’s mission to expand upon the Kathak tradition while preserving its authenticity and cultural integrity.
The premiere comes following a 2020 work-in-progress showing at Minneapolis’s Southern Theater.
Shaamya – Of Equality. November 19 – 21, $16-30, 80 minutes, Park Square Theatre, Historic Hamm Building, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul, 55102. Tickets are available here.
*Please note that anyone who enters the Park Square is asked to be masked at all times, and all audience members are required to either show proof of vaccination or a negative test result within 72 hours of the performance to be admitted.*
Showtimes: November 19: 7:30 pm November 20: 7:30 pm November 21: 2 pm | American sign language (ASL); post-show discussion
About Katha Dance Theatre
Katha Dance Theatre (KDT) creates, performs and educates through the art forms of dance, music, poetry and storytelling. Rooted in Kathak, the classical dance style of Northern India, KDT is dedicated to making dance accessible, inclusive and relevant. It enhances the local community by bridging diverse cultures and audiences to contribute to life’s infinite artistic expressions.
About Kathak Dance
Kathak (pronounced “Kah-tahk”) is an Indian classical dance tradition native to North India. Its origins can be traced back to as early as 400 BCE, when it began as a form of sharing stories, myths, and Hindu scripture in temples and royal courts. Characterized by both rhythmic and lyrical elements, it features graceful hand gestures, pirouettes, and complex footwork, performed with expressiveness and precision. Over the centuries, it has grown to incorporate diverse influences and viewpoints with KDT at the forefront of its artistic evolution.
About Kazi Nazrul Islam
Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) was a Bengali writer, musician and activist whose advocacy for India’s economic and social independence from Britain solidified his reputation as “the rebel poet.” Apart from addressing socio-political issues through writing and protest, his work also touched on themes of natural beauty, romantic love, and humanity’s right to freedom and autonomy. He was also prolific, having written thousands of poems and songs during his lifetime. Today, Kazi Nazrul Islam is officially known as the national poet of Bangladesh.
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visitwww.arts.gov. It is also supported by a grant from St. Paul’s Cultural STAR program. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund. Shaamya – Of Equality was supported by New Music USA. To follow the project as it unfolds, visit my project page. It is also made possible by funding from the RBC foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Target Foundation, the A.B. Walker Foundation, and by the generosity of KDT’s individual donors.
On September 11, 2021, we will reopen our St. Louis Park studio for in-person classes and rehearsals. We also plan to resume in-person performances in the coming months, starting with the premiere of Shaamya – Of Equality at the Park Square Theatre this November. While these are exciting steps forward, our top priority is to ensure everyone’s ongoing health and safety during the pandemic.
With that in mind, we will continue to follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health, which we acknowledge could change at any moment as the pandemic evolves. We are excited to be using a hybrid classroom set-up, allowing us to make all of our classes available both in-person and virtually (apart from classes taught by Rita Mustaphi, which are all virtual). Below are further details surrounding our reopening process this Fall:
As stated on our studio safety and student code of conduct page, we are requiring anyone who enters the studio to wear a mask at all times, regardless of one's vaccination status. Masks have been proven to be effective in lowering transmission of COVID-19, and we feel this is the best way to protect our community against the threat of the Delta variant. In addition to masking, we ask all who enter the studio to try as best they can to maintain a six-foot distance away from those around them.
Following the example of many other dance studios and theaters around the country, we are requiring all in-person students over the age of 12 to provide proof of vaccination before the start of the Fall session. Students under the age of 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated (but as stated above, must wear a mask in-studio) and students learning via Zoom are exempt from this.
If a teacher or student is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and tests positive for the virus, or if they have been exposed to anyone who has tested positive, we ask that they immediately inform Mukta Sathe (School Manager, email@example.com)and refrain from entering the studio for two weeks after the positive test. If there is a chance that any other teachers or class members were exposed, the class will move online for two weeks before returning to the studio.
In order to ensure our studio's safety, we have added a state-of-the-art air purifying system to our HVAC. The iWave C Air Ionization System reduces the flow of particles in the air, helping to stop the spread of certain viruses and bacteria. Read more about it here.
KDT's teaching staff will thoroughly sanitize doorknobs and any other frequently touched surfaces before and after each class. There will also be a bottle of hand sanitizer in the studio that we will require everyone to use before and after each class.
Hybrid Learning Policy: All classes this session will follow a hybrid learning model, meaning that students will have the option of learning in person or on Zoom. Each student's preferred learning model must be shared upon registration, with the knowledge that changing CDC guidelines or a rise in cases could move all classes to Zoom at any time. We have upgraded our studio technology to include a television equipped with an HDMI plug-in that will broadcast Zoom learners into the classroom, visible and audible to all in-person participants.
We will work with every presenter to follow individual venues' policies regarding mask-wearing and social distancing. However, we will insist that all audience members at our performances and outreach programs keep their distance from those outside of their group and wear a mask at all times within the venue.
Again, we will work to follow each venue's specific vaccination policy, but we will require all audience members at our performances and outreach programs to either show proof of prior vaccination (with the last dose having been administered at least two weeks beforehand) or proof of a negative COVID-19 test at least 48 hours before attending.
If you would like to sign up to be vaccinated against COVID-19, please do so here.
If you would like to schedule a COVID-19 test, please do so here.
Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have regarding these policies or any of the measures we are taking to stop the spread of COVID-19.
We’ve come to the difficult decision to not resume in-person learning this Summer, meaning that classes will remain virtual through August.
I know this is disappointing to many of you who are growing weary of living your lives online. And I know that we had previously announced our intention to introduce limited in-person education starting this Summer. Due to recent developments, however, we believe this is the only way forward. Our reasons are as follows:
-COVID-19 case numbers: We’ve noticed with concern that case numbers in Minnesota are rising and in order to ensure the continued health and safety of our community, we feel congregating in-person would pose too great a risk––even with strict safety measures in place, as was our intention.
-Teacher vaccination status: As we’ve previously shared, we are committed to not beginning in-person classes until our entire teaching staff is vaccinated, and at this point, that will likely not happen until after Summer classes have begun.
-HVAC system: Again, because COVID-19 is airborne, we are committed to installing an upgraded HVAC system in our studio before in-person classes resume in order to ensure proper airflow. This will likely not occur until later than we had previously anticipated.
As I hope you’re all aware, we did not come to this decision lightly. We still hope to resume in-person classes this Fall (although virtual options will remain for our remote learners), but in order to ensure everyone’s continued health and safety as the pandemic persists, we feel we must keep Summer classes virtual. Let’s all continue to show each other patience and understanding and come together even stronger this Fall!
Please don’t hesitate to get in touchwith any questions you may have. For example, if you’re interested in using the studio for individual practice time this Summer, we’d be happy to help you arrange that. As KDT students, you have the option of renting the studio for $20/hour.
Either way, thank you all for your continued loyalty and support during this difficult time. We will get through this!
All the best,
Rita Mustaphi Founder & Artistic Director Katha Dance Theatre