Katha Dance Theatre (KDT) is a Minnesota-based professional Kathak dance company. As Minnesota’s first Asian Indian dance company and the only organization of its kind, scale and scope in the Midwest, KDT’s cultural and artistic impact within the local dance landscape are profound. KDT’s company roster includes some of Kathak’s greatest living dancers and its unparalleled repertory is solely conceptualized and choreographed by its artistic director, Rita Mitra Mustaphi, who founded the company in 1987. KDT’s performances and collaborations reflect multicultural experiences and artistic influences, expanding and diversifying the form while preserving its authenticity and cultural integrity. In addition to performing, KDT’s company members instruct at KDT’s school of Kathak dance and engage in regular community outreach activities in order to ensure that Kathak is both accessible and relevant throughout Minnesota.
Born & raised in Kolkata, India, Rita Mustaphi graduated from the University of Calcutta with a major in physiology and Rabindra Bharati University with a major in dance. Later, she became a disciple of Pandit Vijai Shankar (Kolkata) and finally studied under the tutelage of Pandit Birju Maharaj (Delhi), the legendary master of Kathak dance. She recalls, “They taught me to love dance as though it were human and to feel its all-encompassing beauty.”
Rita strives to create works that provoke emotions, stimulate the senses and activate the mind. She began teaching in the Twin Cities in 1978 and in 1987, she realized her dream of creating a professional company and school of Kathak dance—Katha Dance Theatre. KDT is Minnesota’s first Asian Indian dance company as well as one of only 12 professional Kathak companies in the U.S.
In over 30 years, Ms. Mustaphi has choreographed more than fifty evening-length works that have been performed locally, nationally and internationally. Notably, she has performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall, at the prestigious Khajuraho Dance Festival in Madhya Pradesh, India, and in various venues around New Delhi. Her selected choreographic credits include Sufiana – the Sufi Ecstasy (2016), a collaboration with Dr. Pooja Goswami Pavan; the Kathak & Chhau dance collaboration Pourush – The Masculine (2015); Karna – the Abandoned Hero (2013) in collaboration with J.D. Steele; and EKAM–The Supreme Oneness (2011) in collaboration with Robert Robinson. Her works have been set to everything from Persian music to traditionally American jazz, gospel, and R&B.
Ms. Mustaphi is a roster artist for COMPAS, Creative Classroom’s global culture Program. She is a recipient of three McKnight Fellowships for choreography, a Leadership award from the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans, a 2011 Lifetime Achievement award from the India Association of Minnesota and a 2012 Education award from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in the category of Excellence in Vision. In 2021, she was selected to receive the Nari Shakti Award for Women’s Empowerment by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. Photo by Erik Saulitis.
Shilpi Chatterjee studied Kathak in India for 10 years before moving to Minnesota to continue her studies with KDT. She has won awards at multiple district-level dance competitions and has performed with the Bengali Association of Minnesota. In 2021, she won the Jury Award at the Urvashi Dance, Music, Art and Culture Society’s international talent competition, “Sur Taal Hunaar ka Kamal” and performed in KDT’s production of Shaamya - Of Equality. This is her first season as a member of KDT’s Company.
All photos by Anjana Nair unless otherwise noted.