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.
With the vision to bring Kathak dance to American soil, to explore the past, preserve the tradition, and to create forward thinking new imaginative works, Rita Mustaphi started Katha Dance Theatre. Her training in Kathak dance started in Kolkata, India, at Rabindra Bharati University. After graduation, she took intensive training under Pandit Vijai Shankar and finally moved to become a disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj, the legendary master artist in Kathak dance. She also studied Indian classical vocal music and how to play sitar, the musical instrument. Her academic career includes bachelor’s degree with Physiology as a major.
With her schooling behind her and only 20 years old, Ms. Mustaphi left India to join her husband Kalyan Mustaphi, an electrical engineer in US. The year was 1970. She started performing and with many requests from the community leaders she started teaching informally in the community. And in 1987 she started her dream, a dance organization with a professional company as well as 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 will perform new, repertory, traditional, innovative as well as collaborative performances for American audiences.
The beginning years had its share of struggle and frustrations. Barefoot Kathak dancers faced with challenges such as carpeted floor, a tornado halting a performance and of course starting a non-profit organization with learning, maintaining the rules along with the operation with financial responsibilities. But it was the loyal devotion of Rita and Kalyan Mustaphi in the face of apparently many odds that managed to overcome the struggles.
A Dream Realized
From 1988 onward by consistently creating annual season performances, running the yearlong Kathak dance school and its annual spring concert, conducting summer intensive classes by resident Kathak guru Rita Mustaphi and often by the visiting master artist and their companies, such as Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Vijai Shankar, Pandit Sontosh Maharaj and presenting world class artists such as Pandit Birju Maharaj and Ustad Zakir Hussain several times in the past, Rita Mustaphi’s dream was realized.
And, as they say, the rest is history. Katha Dance Theatre earned the first local commission to a dance company by the Ordway Center of Performing arts in Minnesota. Rita Mustaphi was invited to be part of the troupe of Pandit Birju Maharaj at the performance at Carnegie Hall, New York. Rita Mustaphi and Katha Dance Theatre were 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. Katha Dance Theatre has made numerous appearances in Minnesota.
Currently, the Company has 10 dancers and 5 interns. It has an active repertory of over 50 works, principally choreographed by Rita Mustaphi. The Katha Dance School of Kathak is thriving in three locations namely Minneapolis, Maple Grove and Edina with an enrollment of over 100 aspiring dancers from Twin Cities. Several company dancers teach at the school. Rita Mustaphi shaped the history of Katha Dance Theatre. Under her direction Katha Dance Theatre remains dedicated to the preservation of Kathak dance and pushing the form’s boundaries for the development of innovative works. KDT is providing an essential cultural lifeline to all who wish to learn and perform Kathak through its award-winning Company, School, and Outreach programs.