Katha Dance turns 25 'In Retrospect'


This weekend, Katha Dance is celebrating its 25th anniversary by premiering new work created with past collaborators and revisiting dances from over the years. Reuniting with Zorongo Flamenco Dance and Ethnic Dance Theatre, as well as Gospel singer Robert Robinson, the troupe's "In Retrospect" performance will also include video clips of some of their best moments. 

Katha Dance will be premiering a new piece featuring past collaborator Susana Di Palma and a couple of dancers from Zorongo. The work takes place in a contemporary setting, as two groups of dancers -- one traveling from a dance festival in India and one traveling from a dance festival in Madrid -- meet up at an airport. "It's going to be very funny," says Rita Mustaphi, Katha's artistic director.

Katha has also collaborated with Ethnic Dance Theatre previously. For this weekend's performance, they are working with the company's artistic director Donald LaCourse and eight dancers from the troupe. The last time they performed together was in 2008 when they put on Beauty and the Beast at the Ordway. For this week's concert, they'll be showing a little snippet of that piece. LaCourse also has a separate project with Katha to be presented as well.

The biggest collaboration of the evening is with Robert Robinson, a soloist who will be singing live during a performance by four Katha dancers. There will also be a premiere featuring a solo for Mustaphi.

Katha Dance is rooted in the classical Kathak dance of North India. The troupe's name is derived from the Sanskrit word "katha," meaning "story." The dance is characterized by rhythmic footwork, fast pirouettes, and a complex language of symbols created through precise gestures. In traditional Kathak performances, audience members are able to understand each of the subtle miming gestures, but to make their work more accessible, Katha Dance often uses either actors to tell the story or voice over.

"It's really hard to believe that 25 years ago we started," Mustaphi says. "It's basically passion driven." Born in Calcutta, India, Mustaphi's father was very ambitious. "He wanted me to learn classical dance," she says. "All my childhood I was learning all these things and also school." 

According to Mustaphi, it takes a lifetime to learn one art form in India. However, when she moved to the United States in 1970, she was exposed to other dance styles that "really opened my eyes to see what we could do," she says.  

In the 1987, Mustaphi founded Katha Dance. At the school she teaches Indian dance as well as language.

"We never thought it would come this far," she says. "It's totally been a learning curve. It was very nice to present international artists and give them a podium to perform. We took financial risks, and made a lot of sacrifices."

The community has been very supportive all along the way. "We were very fortunate to receive funding from corporations and our own community," she says. "It basically all started from a need for survival. Now, I really feel like we're getting recognition. It is in the cultural fabric of Minnesota that we made a mark."  


Katha Dance: In Retrospect

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

The O'Shaughnessy

2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul