One of Canada’s foremost authorities in Indian classical dance will offer a workshop in Burnaby on Friday (March 17). Usha Gupta, a member of the Edmonton Arts & Culture Hall of Fame, plans to offer insights into Kathak at Deer Lake Gallery (6584 Deer Lake Avenue) from 6 to 8:3o p.m. Tickets are $25 for the Burnaby Arts council event.
Last September, the Firehall Arts Centre presented Khoj – A Contemporary Kathak Dance Extravaganza by the Usha Gupta Dance Entourage.
In this production, Gupta’s troupe re-imagined this artform by integrating contemporary dance without breaking the bridge to this ancient Indian practice. The company also toured India with this show in 2019-20.
“Kathak tells a story with the hand gestures, the movements, footwork, and expression,” Gupta says. “I do absolutely pure kathak—that’s my media. With that media, you can create anything you like.”
Now an octogenarian, Gupta says that her search for insights into Indian classical dance never ends. She points out that Kathak is actually a hybrid of storytelling and technical excellence.
“It’s sensual; it’s rhythmic; it’s graceful; it’s strong,” Gupta declares.
She’s also a vocalist and teacher of vocal music. Raised in the Punjabi city of Jalandhar, she first learned Manipuri dance. Gupta later immersed herself into the Lucknow form of Kathak. In addition, she’s an authority on Bharatanatyam, which originated in South India.
As an adult, Gupta lived in Mumbai, where she met the legendary Bollywood choreographer Farah Khan. Gupta also spent two decades in the Middle East, teaching and performing dance. She immigrated to Canada with her husband in 1989.
Gupta school thrived from the start
Shortly after arriving, she opened a school in her basement with two students. The community in Edmonton was not well-versed in Indian classical dance in those days, but they welcomed her with open arms.
“They didn’t even know at that time what was the difference between Bharatanatyam and Kathak,” Gupta recalls with a laugh.
She adds that within two months, she had 150 students. And she now has a beautiful studio that houses the Usha Dance Entourage Company.
“On the 20th of August, I got a lifetime achievement award from the consulate of India in Edmonton,” Gupta says.