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About Us

Our Mission

Katha Dance Theatre creates, performs and educates through the art forms of dance, music, poetry and storytelling. Rooted in Kathak, the classical dance style of North 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.

Using a mixture of performance, education, and outreach initiatives, KDT works to integrate the Kathak tradition into American culture. KDT’s company not only debuts new dance works each year, but also tours throughout the Midwest, nationally, and internationally to increase Kathak’s presence worldwide.

It is the only Kathak company based in Minnesota, and one of few of its kind in the U.S. Through Kathak classes as part of KDT’s school and outreach programs, the company also increases access to this unique artistic tradition for people who may not normally have access to it, or to dance in general. These programs adhere to KDT’s overarching belief that dance has the power to change lives through enhancing one’s body and mind.

KDT seeks to accommodate individuals with accessibility needs through an ADA Plan. Contact the office to explain the nature of your needs and inquire about accommodations.

Photo Credit: Dababrata Biswas

What is Kathak Dance?

Native to North India, Kathak (pronounced “Kah-tahk”) is one of eight Indian classical dance forms. Kathak originated within Hindu temples as a storytelling device for portraying the epic tales from Hindu scriptures, Mahabharata and Ramayana. Poetry was combined with rhythmic movement to aid in the worshipful storytelling.

However, the stories didn’t stay within the temple walls for long. Nomadic Kathakars, or wandering storytellers, soon began carrying the dances throughout India. They added emotions and facial expressions to their performances, further developing the dance to include elements of mime and theatricality. In this way, Kathak transitioned from its secluded, devotional origins to a more accessible, multi-disciplined entertainment tradition. 

During the medieval period, Kathak became an established part of court culture, performed under the patronage of India’s Persian kings and Muslim moghuls. This sealed Kathak’s transition from colloquial entertainment to classical art form. Behind palace walls, the emotional and graceful storytelling inherent in its Hindu roots combined with the more technical postures, rhythmic elements and mathematical influences of Islam. The mesmerizing, precise, and pulsating footwork, as well as the graceful yet detailed carriage of the upper body, hand placements, and facial expressions demonstrate Kathak’s diverse cultural influences. Thus, Kathak developed into a strong dance tradition that incorporates elements of both Hindu and Muslim cultures. 

One medieval ruler in particular invested himself greatly into the development of Kathak: Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow, India. A poet and dancer himself, Shah paid special attention to the emotional expressiveness of the dance. Out of his court came a stylization of Kathak that is today known as the Lucknow gharana, or school. Generations of dancers followed Shah’s chief court dancer, Thakur Prasad, to pass on the Lucknow teachings. Modern Kathak masters of the Lucknow tradition can still trace their lineage back to the court of Wajid Ali Shah, including the world renowned Pandit Birju Maharaj (1938 – 2022).

As the longtime guru of KDT Artistic Director Rita Mustaphi, Pandit Birju Maharaj had a profound impact on KDT. His influence has helped cultivate KDT’s strong artistic and educational programming, emphasizing the importance of emotional expressiveness onstage and giving rise to KDT’s mission to make Kathak more inclusive, innovative and accessible. KDT is dedicated to continuing his legacy for years to come.

Photo Credit: Erik Saulitis
Photo Credit: Anjana Nair

Our History

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.

The Start

Rita Mustaphi started Katha Dance Theatre with a vision to bring Kathak dance to American soil, explore its past, preserve the tradition, and create forward-thinking and imaginative works that expand upon the ancient tradition. Her training in Kathak dance started in Kolkata, India, at Rabindra Bharati University, from where she graduated with a degree in dance. She also obtained a degree in Physiology from the University of Calcutta. After college, she underwent intensive training under Pandit Vijai Shankar and eventually became a disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj, the legendary master artist in Kathak dance. She also studied Indian classical vocal music and sitar.

At 20 years old, Rita left India to join her husband Kalyan Mustaphi, an electrical engineer, in US. The year was 1970. She started performing and later teaching informally after receiving requests from community leaders. In 1987, she achieved her dream by starting a dance organization that included a professional company and 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 would perform new, repertory, traditional, innovative as well as collaborative performances for American audiences.

Photo Credit: Erik Saulitis

Rita’s Time with Pandit Birju Maharaj

KDT Founder and Artistic Director Rita Mustaphi studied under the legendary Kathak master for decades before moving to the U.S. to found her own Company. Read about their work together below.

The Challenges

Katha Dance Theatre’s initial years had their share of struggle and frustrations. The company was faced with challenges such as dancing barefoot on carpeted floor, having a tornado halt a performance, and

dealing with the many challenges inherent in starting a non-profit organization. However, Rita and Kalyan Mustaphi’s loyal devotion to their work helped them overcome these struggles.

A Dream Realized

From 1988 onward, KDT has consistently created annual season performances, run the year-long Kathak dance school and its annual spring concert, conducted summer intensive classes led by Rita and visiting master artists such as Pandit Vijai Shankar, Pandit Sontosh Maharaj, and the late Pandit Birju Maharaj, and introduced world-class artists such as Saswati Sen, Durga Arya-Krüger and Ustad Zakir Hussainto Minnesota.

Accomplishment

The rest, as they say, is history. KDT earned the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts’ first local commission to a dance company. Rita was invited to be part of the troupe of Pandit Birju Maharaj that performed at Carnegie Hall in New York. Rita and KDT have been 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, including numerous appearances in Minnesota.

Today

Currently, the company has 8 dancers and 5 apprentices. It has a repertory of over 50 works, all of which are principally choreographed by Rita Mustaphi. It has a St. Louis Park-based school with an enrollment of over 100 aspiring dancers from throughout the Twin Cities area. Each of its classes is taught by a KDT company dancer and features authentic Kathak education of the highest quality. 

Under Rita Mustaphi’s direction, KDT has shaped and reshaped the Kathak landscape for close to 35 years. It remains dedicated to preserving Kathak dance and pushing the form’s boundaries in an effort to make innovative, inclusive works. In so doing, KDT provides an essential cultural lifeline to all who wish to learn and perform Kathak thousands of miles from its place of origin.

Historical Repertory

All KDT repertory works are choreographed or co-choreographed by Rita Mustaphi, who founded the Company in 1987. One of Rita’s aims in founding KDT was to embrace the duality of traditional and contemporary. Accordingly, her choreographic works preserve the Kathak tradition, ensuring its enduring legacy, while also building on that legacy by incorporating cross-cultural influences and diverse collaborations.