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 feeling, stimulate the senses and activate the mind. She began teaching in 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 Urvashi Dance, Music, Art, and Culture Society in New Delhi. Photo by Erik Saulitis.
Mukta Sathe first learned Kathak from Guru Sanjeevani Kulkarni in India, where she later won the national “Swar Sadhana” competition. She joined KDT as a student in 2004, eventually becoming a company member in 2007. Since then, she has danced in countless KDT productions, including The Hungry Stones (2018), Ritu – The Seasons (2017), and Karna – The Abandoned Hero (2013). She has performed at Chicago’s International Kathak Festival and in 2017, she performed in Karna at the prestigious Khajuraho Dance Festival in Madhya Pradesh, India. In addition to studying Kathak with masters like Pandit Birju Maharaj, Ms. Saswati Sen, and Kumudini Lakhia, Mukta has served as a KDT instructor since 2007.
Monica Singh-Shukla began training with Rita Mustaphi at age 7, and joined KDT as a company member in 2006. She has studied Kathak with masters like Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ms. Saswati Sen. Her select performance credits with KDT include The Hungry Stones (2018) Ritu – The Seasons (2017), Sufiana – the Sufi Ecstasy (2016), Rubaiyat – Life in a Day (2014), Karna – the Abandoned Hero (2013), and In Retrospect (2012). Monica has served as a KDT instructor since 2012.
Nivedita Sahni first studied Kathak at the Jaipur school of Kathak dance and the Kathak Kendra School in New Delhi. Locally, she has studied under Rita Mustaphi for almost a decade and participated in workshops with Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ms. Saswati Sen. Her performance credits with KDT include The Hungry Stones (2018) Pourush – the Masculine (2015), Ritu – The Seasons (2017), Sufiana – the Sufi Ecstasy (2016), Rubaiyat – Life in a Day (2014), and Karna – the Abandoned Hero (2013). Nivedita has served as a KDT instructor since 2020.
Sarika Haris began her dance journey in India, where she studied Bharatanatyam, the South Indian classical dance style, for over nine years. She joined KDT as a student in 1999. Her selected performance credits with KDT as a company member include The Hungry Stones (2018) Ritu – The Seasons (2017), Sufiana – the Sufi Ecstasy (2016), Pourush – The Masculine (2015); Rubaiyat – Life in a Day (2014), In Retrospect (2012), and the lead role in KDT’s production of Chandalika, The Untouchable. A student of Kathak masters Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ms. Saswati Sen, she performed in India’s Khajuraho Dance Festival in 2017. Sarika has been a KDT instructor since 2017.
Rupa Nair began her dance career at Mumbai’s Sri Rajarajeshwari Dance Academy, where she studied Bharatanatyam for ten years and for which she has won awards at state and district-level dance competitions. Rupa joined KDT as a student in 2012, and has since studied Kathak with Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ms. Saswati Sen as well as Rita Mustaphi. Her performance credits with KDT include a leading role in KDT’s 2015 production of Pourush – the Masculine.
Madhulika Srikanth comes to KDT with twelve years of India-based Kathak study under her belt. In addition to studying with instructors Upasana Tiwari, Manjiri Kiran Mahajani, Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ms. Saswati Sen, she has performed in Indian cultural events like the Uday Shankar Ballet Festival in Kolkata and Hori in Jaipur. She made her debut with KDT in 2017’s Ritu – The Seasons.
All photos by Anjana Nair unless otherwise noted.