The inaugural New York Kathak Festival was held at the Ailey Studios and Ailey Citigroup Theater on April 19-21, 2019.
The festival was attended by over 750 people. It was a confluence of artists and Kathak aficionados coming together as a community to learn, share, and connect over the 3-day event in the heart of Manhattan, according to a press release.
Originating in India, Kathak is a classical dance that carries history in its very form. The New York Kathak Festival is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit run by a team of 10 young professionals.
“The NYKF organizing team is mostly millennial women who live and work in the New York and New Jersey area. The festival is our passion in addition to our careers,” said Meenakshi Lala, on behalf of the festival.
Anisha Muni, also on the festival team said, “We created this event with the intention of using art to bring community together and create a platform for Kathak to blossom in New York City. We’re on a mission to make Kathak a household name.”
Raoul Bhavnani of the India Center Foundation, co-sponsored panel discussions on critical conversations relevant to Kathak dance.
He commented: “An honor to co-host an expert panel on the present, past, and future of Kathak dance today during the Kathak Festival weekend. Well done to all the panelists who grounded us in the living tradition, gender, and the idea of the divine. Inspiring conversation.”
Eminent artists contributed to the festival, including Pandit Divyang Vakil, Dr. Pallabi Chakravorty, Dr. Purnima Shah, and Dr. Sitara Thobani.
The concert lineup included 50 dancers and 10 musicians from all over the world.
Prashant Shah, an Indian dancer now based in New York closed his showcase of traditional and contemporary Kathak to a standing ovation. Shivangi Dake Robert traveled the furthest—all the way from Singapore—and was electric.
The weekend was closed with a finale by the festival’s guest of honor, legend Pandit Birju Maharaj and his foremost disciple, Saswati Sen.
Speaking about the event’s organizers, Sen said, “what the seniors couldn’t do, these children have done: bringing everyone together for Kathak.”
Maharaj, 81, a recipient of the India’s second highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, is a living legend and an institution himself. The seventh generation and torchbearer of the Kalka-Bindadin gharana of Kathak, Maharaj is a celebrated dancer, choreographer, guru, percussionist, singer, poet, and painter.
A recipient of countless prestigious awards such as the Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Kalidas Samman, Nritya Choodamani, Andhra Ratna, Nritya Vilas, Adharshila Shikhar Samman, Soviet Land Nehru Award, Shiromani Samman, and Rajiv Gandhi Peace Award, he has been conferred with Honorary Doctorate degrees from Banares Hindu University and Khairagarh University.
Maharaj started teaching Kathak as a thirteen year old, at Sangeet Bharti in New Delhi. From there, he went on to teach at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra, and Kathak Kendra as Head of Faculty and Director. In 1998, he established his institute Kalashram, in New Delhi, and has trained many fine dancers around the world.
He is well known for his enchanting choreographies, and notably his work has featured in the celebrated director Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players). More recently, his work in Bollywood has included the Hindi films Devdas, Dedh Ishqiya, Bajirao Mastani, Vishwaroopam, and the forthcoming, Kalank.
Maharaj, speaking at the meet, told the audience to support the organizers.