Kathak Artist Meghna Rao: “I was intrigued by the openness and theatrical nature of the Dance Form”

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

 

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

As a child, her first tryst with dance got kick-started, mainly do to her mother’s persuasion. She would also learn Veena at the same time, her younger sister and she were sent to learn Bharatantyam from her dance teacher, Kamala Bhat in Mangalore.

Apparently, this was a regular practice down south of the Vindiyas where young Brahmin girls were sent to learn dance and music to comprehend its aesthetics, symbolic value as well as observation within a particular culture. These were some of the formative years in her life that had always served as the backbone for her journey. Music and dance had already began to enter into her life slowly helping her realise years later, how critical the culture at home and these experiences helped her shape as an artist. Wonder who this artist is? It’s none other than the Kathak exponent, Meghna Rao!

Relocation

Kathak had a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

Meghna’s family had relocated to Mathura Vrindavan lock, stock and barrel from Mangalore, when she was a teenager. After the initial discomfort and hesitation of moving to a new city and new state, young Meghna was flabbergasted by the confluence of cultures in Mathura. Language, habits, practices and festivals were so pronounced and quite different and for Meghna Rao, it was almost magical for her, as she got to know more about the way of life in these towns. The loud nature and the bright colours, the festivities and the celebrations in the North of Vindiyas, the temples and the folklore, paintings and even people…all fascinated the adolescent.

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

“Here in Mathura and Vrindavan, I was introduced to the beautiful classic art form of Kathak in my school. I used to take great pride in learning Kathak from my teacher. Being in and around Vrindavan and Mathura, I also got an opportunity to travel and perform Kathak in temples along with my teacher during the North Indian festivals such as Janmasthami, Holi and more”, says Meghna Rao.

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

Open way of communication

While elaborating on the uniqueness of Kathak as a Classical Dance form, Meghna Rao says, “Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories – Katha to the audience. At that young age, I was intrigued by the openness and almost theatrical nature of the dance form. In fact, these years were the initial stepping stones towards me eventually taking up Kathak as a full-time profession years later.”

As her father had a transferable bank job, Meghna Rao had to move back to Mangalore after spending almost five years in Mathura. Meghna graduated in Commerce from Mangalore and later went on to work for a private educational institution in the Human Resources department. Meghna, during this time, interacted with many students in college and performed in various inter-cultural and college dance festivals. Somehow, this stint helped Meghna Rao to blossom as an young dancer.

“However, at the back of my mind, I did know that my true passion had been left behind in the North of India. While working after college, I realised that my creativity is the best expressed as an artist and I wanted to further pursue a career in dance. This realisation also established a strong desire in me to learn Kathak seriously and began looking for a place to do so,” Meghna Rao says.

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

Quest for Learning

Apparently, this quest for learning Kathak took Meghna Rao to Bangalore, where she was introduced to Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography. “I still remember the first time I entered the Institute. The energy and aura that I felt setting my foot in, was a very elated moment that I still cherish till day. Here, I got an opportunity to meet Dr. Maya Rao, we fondly addressed her as Maya Didi, a great Kathak exponent, choreographer and educator. Maya Rao was selected for the USSR cultural Scholarship to complete her Masters in Choreography from Russia way back in 1964. Madhu Natraj, Maya Rao’s daughter is also a Kathak exponent and a renowned  choreographer,” says Meghana Rao without concealing her excitement. Having been accepted as a student in Maya Rao’s Institution, Meghna’s formal training in Kathak began under the former’s direct tutelage and her daughter, Madhu Natraj

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

Kiran in Bangalore. The Institute also offered a graduation course in Kathak and Choreography, affiliated to Bangalore University. In fact, it was one of the only courses in Asia for this type of education in Kathak. “I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Kathak and Choreography from Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography. It was then I got the opportunity to be a principal dancer in India’s foremost prominent and top Kathak and contemporary dance firm, Natya Stem Dance Kampani (NSDK) from 2010 to 2015. I got the opportunity to tour extensively as a principal dancer to various overseas destinations including the UAE, South Korea (on behalf of ICCR), the US, apart from 60 odd performances in various parts of India. I was also one of the assisting faculty member of the Institute after my graduation.”

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

Besides teaching Kathak, Meghna Rao also had assisted in creative and thematic choreographic for renowned schools in Bangalore, along with many other choreographic for social and charitable organisations. She had also attended a slew of workshops in Kathak under eminent gurus in the field of Kathak and several other art forms such as Kalaripayattu, Chhau, Thang Tha, Mime, Bhangra and Dance pedagogy and all this Meghna Rao had been able to inculcate into her dance ideology.

Second Relocation

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

Having moved to Pune three years ago, and meeting Guru Shama Bhate, Principal disciple and daughter-in-law of Guru Pandita Rohii Bhate. Currently, Meghna is learning the complex nuances of Kathak from Shama Thai, who is one of the leading exponents of Kathak in the country. Apart from that, Meghna Rao have also assisted Shama Thai in workshops conducted in the US, Canada and Bangalore, along with performing in Shama Bhate’s choreographs in Kurukshetra, Chennai, Mumbai and Pune. What’s more, Meghna Rao is also pursuing her Masters degree in Kathak from Lalit Kala Kendra, Pune University.

Kathak has a very open way of communicating and is primarily used to tell stories, says Meghna Rao

As a performer, what she sees dance? “As a performer, I see dance as a potent medium that offers ample opportunities that could be explored and create a platform for dance and music through my define vision. I have always believed that dancing is a form of visual art that transcends age, culture and boundaries, allowing me to explore the nuances of Kathak,” Meghna Rao says.

Forging alliance with like-minded artists had helped her to communicate her vision in a more coherent way. How as an independent artist, dance has become a medium that had helped Meghna Rao represent her true self is the intriguing journey she is currently on. Connecting the various forms of medium available in art and combining them to share her work across various platforms is something Meghna enjoys the most.

Performances

“Taking my dance to the audience has been very satisfying that I have performed in IAPAR International Theatre Festival in Yugmak -Duet Festival by Kalavardhini Trust, Lit Bug – Literature Festival, PAPAR International Dance Day, Krishnagaan – Organised by Kala Chaya Pune, madam Menaka Cheorography Dance Festival, along with performances in temples in Pune. In my productions I also try to use the allied arts seamlessly and have collaborated with Multimedia artists and set designers as well. I have also had the opportunity to direct a Kathak Video i a 200-year-old Haveli in Ahmedabad, capturing the soul of the space through a Duet Kathak Choreography (Thumri) with a fellow artist from Spain. This was a unique experience as we used cinetography to choreograph a Kathak piece.

I have also worked with Nikhil Ravi parmar to create some productions using repertoire that I have learnt over the years,” says Meghna Rao.

Productions

Katha – A Traditional Evening of Kathak: An evening of pure traditional Kathak exploring and revisiting the repertoire through its rich cultural heritage and traditions as passed on by her gurus. She has also curated and designed to represent Kathak as a form that evolved from temples moved to Royal Courts before coming to the contemporary proscenium stage. The duration production was 45 minutes to one hour, while the concept, choreography and performance was by Meghna Rao and Nikhil Ravi Parmar.

Another production, Zaga – In Spirit, Vision and Harmony, a multimedia art installation and performance, drawing parallels between the spiritual and the physical. Integrating art and science in bringing a more synthesised awareness which begins in wonder and ends in wisdom. The performance finds motifs of martial arts (Kalaripayattu), Indian classical Kaathak, Yoga and contemporary movement juxtaposed with art installations. The first part was celebrating the idea of co-existence, the performance is a blend of abstract imagery from ancient traditions of Vaastu Shasthra. The second part was to view the world in its entirety yet with a focused vision that united personal values with action. The choreography derived its premise from the potency of clarity..clarity in vision, thought and action. The third part is the height of wisdom that determined the breath of vision, the depth of exploration, the extend of progress and the limit of transcendence. The choreography brought references of Drithi – in obtaining physical and mental serenity, harmony and happiness.

The concept, choreography and performance was by Meghna Rao and Nikhil Ravi Parmar and the duration was one hour and twenty minutes. Another project, Echoes – A Proverb Based Choreography, depicting the struggles and situation, sending across the message that survival stands the test of time is quite thought provoking indeed, where survival defines destiny, while they play on instincts and strengths. On this route to survival is the written story…a story of strength and weakness, a story of thoughts and actions…a story through many roles…ultimately a story of survival..until the lions learn to write, every story will glorify the hunter – as the saying becomes the content, context and purpose of choreography. A unique proverb-based choreography was indeed the seed of Guru Shama Bhate in the form of Menaka’s choreography festival held in collaboration with the Maharasthra Cultural Centre.

This is a thirty minutes performance, where the concept and choreography are by Meghana Rao and Nikhil Ravi Parmar, curated by Guru Shama Bhate.