Prashant Shah, a senior disciple of Kumudini Lakhia, is a critically acclaimed outstanding male performer-choreographer residing in the New York City. His virtuosity in Kathak technique enables him to perform a vast repertoire with masculine grace without any flowery affectations.
By A Correspondent
Chicago: Usually many of us, especially, Gujaratis put off the interest if a cultural program showcases classical dances like Kathak or Bharatnatyam. Up to now I also have same feeling for all these classical dances. But when I saw Kathak dance performance at India America Medical Association’s annual banquet at The Meadows Club on November 17, it change my concept about Kathak dance. I was so impressed by the Kathak dance presented by Prashant Shah that tempted me to write an article on the artiste.
Prashant Shah, a senior disciple of Kumudini Lakhia, is a critically acclaimed male performer-choreographer residing in the New York City. His virtuosity in Kathak technique enables him to perform a vast repertoire with masculine grace without any flowery affectations, and makes him one of the outstanding male dancers of his genre today. He is also the first recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Yuva Puraskar established by the President of India in the name of Ustaad Bismillah Khan.
Prashant has his own dance company in New York, and having performed in over 40 countries, he is regularly commissioned by international choreographers involving other dance styles like Hip- Hop, Belly Dancing, Flamenco, Bharatanatyam, modern and contemporary forms. He performed Kathak dances in Europe, North America and Asia, and got rave reviews in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Independent, San Francisco Chronicle, Dancing Times, The Star Ledger, Voice of Dance and many more.
Prashant is one of the youngest dancers graded as “top” level artiste by the Indian Television Artists Association — Prasaar Bharti. He is also an empanelled artiste of Indian Council of Cultural Relations — a national organization of the Cultural Ministry of India.
Recently, Prashant has also been selected as the “Gallery Artiste” on Pentacle list of artiste, an internationally respected company based in New York City and Los Angeles that promotes world’s renowned artistes and their companies. Prashant believes in developing new language of creativity in his Kathak dance with the use of and exploration within its rich technique both, traditional and contemporary, to other dance forms of the world.
He is one of the few acclaimed Kathak dancers to benefit from Lakhia’s teaching system, which involves rigorous technical training, while also encouraging to use dance as a mode of self-expression to scratch beyond the surface of technique. As a choreographer, his highly developed awareness of space and its possibilities of exploring it visually in Kathak dance form along with his own traditional and contemporary ideas, drives him to work with various dancers of other classical dance styles abroad and choreograph innovative dance numbers.
His “Independence” dance production with Nina Rajarani, a Bharatanatyam dancer based in the UK; “Kathak Pravas” dance production with Kelly Verma, a Kathak dancer based in Holland; “Anokha,” a joint production of Hip-Hop, Bharatanatyam and Kathak with Kader Attou, a Hip-Hop dancer–choreographer, based in France; and more recently “Les Corps estrangers” with same company are some of the productions which have been successfully performed, toured and critically ac-claimed extensively in India and all over the world. He was also invited to choreograph and perform in Sweden in November 2006 for a joint production of Kathak-Flamenco, specially commissioned by Swedish Arts Council.
Prashant has been invited to participate in various international Kathak festivals in Chicago, San Francisco and India. Milapfest’s prestigious International Summer School for Dance in the UK has been regularly inviting him since 2009 to teach, perform and choreograph various productions at Dance India. Recently, he was also invited to perform at the Freer and the Sackler, Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C. for India Day celebrations sponsored by the Indian Embassy in the USA.
In an exclusive interview, he has spoke to this correspondence. Here are excerpts:
Q: What age you started dancing and what made you dance?
A: I remember when I was eight years old, my mom used to take my sister Alpa to Kadamb Dance Centre, Ahmedabad. It just happened that being a younger child in the family, my mom did not want to leave me alone at home. So I was compelled to join them just as a spectator in the class. But the interesting part is that I could remember everything taught in the class by just observing the class. My guru Kumiben was observing all this. I remember she came to me one day and said: “Why don’t you dance.” I replied spontaneously, that boys don’t dance. In fact she explained me Kathak was usually danced by male. This went for one full year. After a year, one fine day I just got up in the class and started dancing in the class.
Q. What is your experience of teaching the students born here and in India?
A. I think the students here are very serious and sincere in everything what they do, specially the Indian dance. Because they crave for the Indian culture and whatever they learn at Indian dance and music schools or Sunday school here, they love it and try to be most productive. Honestly, I find the students here are more Indian, than students learning in India. To live in India and learn is a different story and to learn here after being born and raised in this country is a totally different scenario.
Guru-sishya parampara prevails in US too. But I do not like myself to be called a guru but I wants my students to believe in this relationship as this bonds them with teaches for mutual respect, patience, hard work, passion for dance, common goal of excellence, sincerity and loyalty towards teachers and schools where they learn.
Q. Where do you teach here?
A. Arya Dance Academy, one of the outstanding and most dynamic schools of Bollywood dance. It also has a Kathak department, which is headed by me. Even though, I have only few students, who learm Kathak at our school, our goal is to train them in the real classical technique, teach theory of Kathak and do Rang pravesh after certain years of rigorous training. In fact, Rupal Patel, director of Arya, who is my senior most disciple in the USA, is extremely co-operative to my suggestions and structure of classes as we both share a common goal that our students, who graduate in Kathak under us, should be able to do one and half hour Kathak classical dance show anywhere at any given time. Also they should be able to create their own tukdaas, tihaais, baant, gat, thaaat, aamad, etc and not just dance to film songs and say they are doing Kathak.
Q. Do you still learn?
A. Yes, of course. I will be a student all my life under my guru Kumudini Lakhia. I visit Ahmedabad twice in a year because I want to be attached to my roots of Kathak and traditions. Just being with Kumiben and at Kadamb, infuses a lot of life in me. She motivates and challenges me in all artistic aspect of my life. She is not just a guru for me but is an institution.
Q. What is your educational background?
A. I come from a family of academicians. My father is a Chartered Accountant, and my mother holds a bachelors degree. They believe in education and that is the reason why I have done my Masters in Accounting with distinction. I am fortunate to have them as my parents, because without their support and understanding, I would not have been able to be where I am standing today.
Q. What are your future plans?
A. With the blessings of my parents and my guru, I really want my students to learn the right Kathak, which I have learnt from my guru. It’s a difficult task but not impossible. In fact, I would like to mention here that I do make my students dance with a lot of other music as a part of experimentation in class so that they don’t become close-minded.