A few days ago, I was among the thousand people at the Ravindra Kalakshetra, the city’s premier cultural space, who watched spellbound as graceful dancers brought alive the history of Karnataka in the Hoysala Vaibhava and paid tribute to Sufism in the Vision of Amir Khusrau.
The event was a celebration of the silver jubilee of what is perhaps the only institute in India that offers a graduate course in choreography. I was bemused when the founder talked energetically about her plans simply because eighty-five is not an age when one would expect anyone to talk about fulfilling dreams.
Dr. Maya Rao or Mayadi however is not just any octogenarian. One of India’s foremost Kathak exponents, she has many firsts to her credit. Overcoming resistance from her family, this Bangalorean ventured into dance at the age of 13 and went on to train with Guru Sunderprasad of the Jaipur gharana and later with Shambhu Maharaj of the Lucknow gharana.
She spent time in Sri Lanka learning the Kandian dance techniques before winning a scholarship to study choreography for three years with the Riga Ballet in Moscow. Upon returning, she pioneered classical choreography in India. She started the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography in Delhi in 1964 encouraged by the cultural doyenne Kamala Devi Chattopadhya. She moved back here to her hometown in 1987 at the invitation of the then Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde. The school grew from offering a diploma to a three -year graduate course in choreography.
It admits just ten students a year who come from across the globe and from every part of India to learn from experts from the field of dance, music, theatre, design and the allied arts. The course blends traditional dance methodology with modern pedagogy techniques.
Mayadi’s daughter, the lovely Madhu Nataraj, trained at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York and decided to focus on creating contemporary Indian dance forms through STEM (space, time, energy and movement).
Over the years it evolved into the Natya STEM Dance Kampni and has impressed audiences across the globe. I was saddened to hear from Madhu though that corporate India has forsaken professional dancers like the Kampni. Apparently, it’s the fringe of Bollywood and the participants of TV reality shows who are sought after!
What price the enduring legacy of art? Mayadi, Madhu and their amazing repertoire demonstrate the relevance of dance in contemporary times. People from diverse walks of life who raptly watched the revival of the two legendary productions will agree with me.