She dares to be different


Kathak and contemporary dancer Madhu Nataraj

For someone who was born to a Kathak icon, and spent her childhood years surrounded by dance and dancers, Madhu Nataraj began regular professional performances relatively late, only when she was in her early 20s. “I was doing so many other things like theatre, modelling, management, creative arts, and journalism.

Although my parents never pushed me, everyone else expected me to become a dancer and carry forward the legacy. But by nature I never wanted to do what others thought I ought to. I don’t believe in conforming to others’ expectations.

So, I ran in the opposite direction! I wanted to be original and do something unique,” Madhu says with a smile.

 Those who know Madhu would vouch for that. She has indeed become a dancer, and a very accomplished one at that, but she is very original. She is known for her creativity and innovation, and for her enthusiasm in seeking new paths. Graceful, with chiselled features and large, expressive eyes, she is an arresting presence on stage. Off stage too, this Kathak and contemporary dancer and arts entrepreneur is known to be an articulate, intelligent professional.  

 Daughter and disciple of Kathak dancer, choreographer, scholar and pioneer Dr Maya Rao and impresario-musician M S Natarajan, Madhu was fortunate to have learnt the art from a great guru and that too from a very young age.

“I absorbed a lot by osmosis. I grew up with the sound of ghungroos and tabla. I spent so much of my childhood in green rooms and in watching rehearsals,” she says.
 She trained under Chitra Venugopal, studied choreography at the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, and studied contemporary dance in New York. She returned to Bangalore to set up Stem Dance Theatre.

“I wanted to bring a unique Indian identity to contemporary dance emerging from our country. I went through a long process of trial and error and finally created a distinct vocabulary.

In the beginning I drew flak from purists in the dance community,”  she says. But Madhu moved ahead with courage. “Not only were our initial contemporary-dance productions widely appreciated but soon many clones of our  work began to appear,” she exclaims.

 Doesn’t she feel the need to copyright her work?

“I think the process in India is very tedious. I take the more positive approach of creating better and newer work,” she says.  Madhu has earned praise for her creativity, grace, superb footwork and captivating abhinaya. 

Apart from managing Natya Stem Dance Kampni, she has designed programmes for cultural organisations in Europe, USA, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

She has also launched Kampni Resources and Initiatives in Arts (KRIYA), which provides a support system for performing artistes, encourages new talent and conceptualises and conducts seminars and workshops.

Her dream is to set up a state-of-the-art centre for training and performance in dance. 

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