What is Kathak?

What is Kathak dance?

History of Kathak

Kathak is among the eight major classical dances of India and one of the most dynamic theater arts in the world. The word Kathak is derived from katha, meaning "the art of storytelling." It is also synonymous with the community of artists known as Kathakas whose hereditary profession it was to narrate history while entertaining.

With dance, music and mime these storytellers of ancient India would bring to life the great scriptures like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana as well as the Puranas of Sanskrit literature.

From its early form as a devotional expression dedicated to the Hindu gods, Kathak gradually moved out of the temples and into the courts of the rulers; the Hindu maharajas and the Muslim nawabs. With these rulers' cultural wealth and preoccupation with lavish entertainment, a class of dancing girls and courtesans emerged to entertain the palaces.

Later during the 1800's, Kathak gained prominence among the kings and zamindars (feudal overlords) not only as a form of entertainment, but as a classical art form. In the Hindu courts of Rajasthan, Kathak developed in the Jaipur gharana (school), a regional style emphasizing the technical mastery of pure dance.

To the east in the court of Wajid Ali Shah, the dance emphasized dramatic and sensuous expression and developed into the style characteristic of the Lucknow gharana. This gharana is said to have originated with Wajid Ali Shah's court dancer Thakur Prasadji.


Performing Kathak

Highly improvised, the traditional solo is considered the highest level of mastery in Kathak. It is risk-taking, utterly dynamic—simultaneously in the moment and honoring the legacy from which it comes. The solo is performed in series of specific sections, ranging from invocational, to pure dance, to fiery rhythmic exchanges to dramatic stories (gat bhao) in which the soloist portrays all of the characters. A true master of the form can improvise within each of these sections, not unlike master jazz artists who improvises within a work.

Through the study of nava rasa, ardhanariswara, bhav, gestures, and timing, the dancer learns to portray the wide array of characters from traditional stories as well as contemporary themes. Group choreographies are also created without the emphasis on a story, but rather on the pure and abstract dance elements of kathak.

Elements of Kathak
The virtuosity of technique and skills acquired through systematic training and practice.
The deep understanding and versatility of rhythm and timing.
Khubsurti & Nazakat
Beauty & Delicacy.
The aesthetics of the art form and the refined subtlety of rendering expression and evoking emotion.
Pure Dance, Technique.
Movement exercises, basic footwork tatkar, turns chakkars, rhythmic patterns and timing, recitation of the dance verses bols.
Dance, Rhythm and Expression.
Interpretive gestures, expression and the rendering of traditional songs and poems.
The art of storytelling, the nine sentiments nava rasa, and working with masculine/feminine energies ardhanariswara-shiva/shakti.
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