Creator of Sur Taal
Rhythm Dance Festival
Founder – Anjana Welfare Society ( AWS)
“A woman should be financially independent. Every woman should have dreams and should work towards them no matter at what age”
In conversation with Kathak exponent and philanthropist Maya Kulshrestha…
We know practising any classical dance form requires rigorous training. How much did you train and do you also have other educational qualifications?
Apart from Master’s in Kathak, I have a Masters degree in Psychology. I am Visharad in Kathak from Khairagarh University. I also have a Diploma in Theatre studies.
What drew you towards Kathak?
In my case, I think the dance chose me when I was only three-year-old. I had no clue what I will be doing in the future but my parents wanted me to learn Kathak. I continued learning and eventually enjoyed it.
How has been your journey as a Kathak dancer? How have you evolved over the years as an artiste?
I have no strong artistic family background or a Godfather in the field, so I learned everything while learning the dance form and my experiences as an artiste. My first performance was at my school when I was nine-year-old. I was 13 when I started doing choreography for others to aid financial support to my family and continue my studies at the same time. I continued this life for about 10 years and gradually realized how to make Kathak my full-time job. I continued performing, learning and teaching. Later, I learned theatre so I can express myself better through my performances. Theatre helped me express my thoughts writing and I did write a few plays and people loved through writing them. There’s still a lot to do and the journey is still a long way to go, I am just going with the flow.
How do you combine Kathak and theatre in your performances?
I think each performing art form is intertwined. Every dance form has ‘abhinaya paksha’ (acting element) and after I learned a bit about performing on stage and read Natyashastra, it really brought depth into my performances. I understand the performance and the character I am playing through dance so I emote it more convincingly. I have become more conscious about the nitty-gritty of performing on stage including how to write my craft.
You have been actively involved in philanthropy, what inspired you to take that plunge?
I know young artists and specially-abled children suffering a lot for their livelihood. I was moved when I came across many kids suffering so I adopted 30 kids to provide them with vocational arts training. These kids are learning various art forms and we provide them a platform to showcase their talent.
Please tell us about your initiative ‘Sur Taal’ and ‘Rhythm’.
We wanted to do something to continue with the traditional Guru-Shishya Parampara so the Sur Taal festival was born. The festival brings the trainer and the student both on the same stage for the performance. On the other hand, Rhythm is a youth festival where our students go to perform in different countries and we invite performances from around the world. Over the years, Rhythm has become one of the prestigious Art festivals in India. In addition, we also have a virtual art exhibition to give artistes and audiences a holistic art experience. We are lucky to receive a very positive response from our audiences.
You are also the founder of Anjana Welfare Society.
Being an artiste, I believe it is my responsibility and priority to take Indian art on global platforms. It is important that people should know and understand the power and beauty of Indian culture and different art forms which are so impressive and inclusive. Our aim is to encourage Indian art forms and traditions through performing arts across societies and various global platforms.
You have created some wonderful dance shows on social issues. What played an inspiration for those creations?
My parents and my husband. I feel blessed that I am surrounded by so many socially aware people. We discuss many things with each other and those conversations about society and the flaws of the social system inspire me to create an art that expresses my opinions, and the pain of others.
Do you believe in a key to success for women, especially when there’s no support for their art or other dreams from friends and family?
Hard work and an optimistic approach to life, I believe are the two most important things to achieve your dreams. It is important to get inspired and admire things around us and feel the power of positivity. I also believe destiny plays an important role in your achievements and success but ultimately, it’s about how you see life in its fullest form.
What is your idea of women empowerment?
A woman should be financially independent. Every woman should have dreams and should work towards them no matter at what age. I know many women who started learning Kathak at the age of 30-40 and have been pursuing the art form very gracefully.
Many artists complain about the government’s negligence towards the development of art. What are your observations?
I think there should be more opportunities for Indian art and artistes. There should be more cultural exchanges within and outside India to make people aware of different art forms.
What is your approach to overcoming difficult times in your personal and professional life?
I have only one tool: Dance and pray. I am a Krishna follower.
You have received several awards and accolades, do they come with a responsibility or any added pressure?
True! Every award comes with a lot of responsibility because people start putting their expectations on you and your production. It doesn’t matter how big or small the award is, it is surely a responsibility that comes with a lot of faith and acknowledgement for your work.
Your dance practice must have added a lot to your physical fitness, but mental health is equally important. How do you ensure that?
I dance a lot and do a lot of riyaz (practice) and yoga.