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Pt Birju Maharaj launches the First Edition of Kalashram Kathak Contest in Mumbai
- Sunil Sunkara

December 6, 2017

Pt Birju Maharaj is a name that is synonymous with Kathak. The maestro who turns 80 in Feb 2018, has spent almost 75 of those years on stage propagating Kathak. There is no Kathak aspirant in the world today who is not influenced by Birju Maharaj’s personal style or andaaz that has now become the signature style of the Lucknow gharana of Kathak. His forays onto the silver screen created iconic moments that took the world by storm, whether it was his choreography for Madhuri Dixit in “Kahe ched mohe” or Deepika Padukone in “Mohe rang do laal.” At the same time, he was at the helm of things at the World Culture Festival in 2016 where1700 Kathak students danced to his choreography based on Shakti. He was one of the first few Indians to truly popularize classical Kathak outside India and his remarkable style of connecting Kathak with any and every audience has earned him thousands of followers the world over.

Classical art needs Preservation, Promotion and Protection, and with that intention Birju Maharaj started his institute Kalashram. As the name suggests it has been an ashram for the performing arts since the last two decades. Hundreds of students learn Kathak and other allied arts at the institute. Under his guidance, the Kalashram repertory has presented a number of iconic choreographies that have appealed to the masses. Most recently, the Kalashram repertory along with senior disciple Saswati Sen performed for the dance reality show ‘Dance 3+’ and were well received.

This year, taking their efforts a step further, Kalashram has organized the  Kalashram Kathak Contest, a first of its kind contest where contestants who are among the best young dancers in India, will face off not just in traditional presentations, but will be pushed to present creative choreogaphies that would appeal to the masses. Dancers from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Kolkata and London will compete in the event.The winner would be be crowned with the ‘Pandit Birju Maharaj Crown,’ which would be the highest honour for any young artist in India. Scheduled at the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, on Dec 21, 2017. A galaxy of celebrities as panelists and guests from the field of classical dance and music, film and television industry, corporate world, sports, intelligentsia, and the art lovers Pt. Rajan and Sajan Misra, Anup Jalota, Shekhar Sen, Madhuri Dixit, Charu Sharma, Guru Kumudini Lakhia, Kailash Kher, Remo Fernandes, Sandip Soparrkar and others will grace the contest.

On 26th Nov 2017, Pt Birju Maharaj launched this unique event in Mumbai at Marico Evenings Stage, Carter Road, Bandra. The launch was followed by a colourful performance by Gauri Sharma and her students. The launch was graced by Guru Padma Sharma and Pt Kalinath Mishra. Contest organization committee Saswati Sen, Renu Sharma, Lalita Panse and Richa Srivastava were joined by many Kathak dancers from the Mumbai Kathak fraternity to support this unique endeavor.

Q and A with Pt Birju Maharaj:
Why has Kalashram organized this contest?
People love to see dance - we have noticed that there is a huge public appeal to the popular dance on TV reality shows. We believe in the strength of classical dance – this contest will enrich the audience and the participants and further their understanding in various aspects of this dance form.

How will this change the participating dancer’s career?
All the participating dancers are under the guidance of their respected gurus in their cities. The contest will challenge them to come out of their ‘comfort zone,’ understand their own strengths and weakness and work hard to develop themselves as a complete artist. Also by being on this huge platform, the young dancers now will be noticed by the experts and promoters of this field which could be a fabulous breakthrough in their career.

What qualities would you like to see in the dancers?
Firstly, the enjoyment in dancing and the ‘star’ quality while demonstrating the clarity and strength in rhythm and technique, abhinaya, musicality, general arts related knowledge and creativity.

How will this contest enrich the audience?
The contest will present best Kathak dancers from 8 different cities, including London, which is our European leg of the contest. It will be enriching for the audience to see the high standard of Kathak practice and also feel inspired about this beautiful, ever evolving classical dance.

Based in Mumbai, Sunil Sunkara is a Kathak dancer with a PhD degree.