CHENNAI: The daughter of legendary danseuse the late Maya Rao and an artiste and choreographer in her own right, Madhu Nataraj Kiran, the Bengaluru-based Kathak and contemporary dancer juggles many identities with aplomb. Talking to CE after the Natya Kala conference by the Krishna Gana Sabha, Madhu, who says that it is always a pleasure to be in Chennai, her birth place, adds wistfully that this was the first time she gave a lecture-demonstration without her mother’s guidance. “It is going to be four months since her demise. She was the biggest guiding force in my life,” she says.
At the conference, delving deep into the story of Vrinda who underwent many trials as the woman who was violated, wounded, exploited by gods and ravaged, only to be reborn as the holy Tulasi, Madhu adopted a novel approach for the lecture-demonstration. With a specially shot film, she narrated the myth of Vrinda and the multiple connotations through the idioms of kathak, contemporary dance alongside text, original soundscape and multimedia.
Madhu says the myth of Vrinda is a collision between sanction and sanctity. Calling the lec-dem an enriching experience, she says, “I had a number of things happening as I was preparing for it. The curator of the conference Delhi-based Kuchipudi legend Swapna Sundari, had asked me to work on it a month ago. Preparing for it was like recharging my batteries. I have to thank dancer Anita Rathnam, my student Keerthi Kumar, composer Praveen Rao and Swapna Sundari for this.”
Having trained in kathak under her mother Maya Rao and aunt Chitra Venugopal and later in contemporary dance in New York, Madhu has endeavoured to work on her own identity as a dancer. However, as she carries forward the legacy of her mother, who made the dance form of kathak popular down South, she concedes that being Maya Rao’s daughter has been both a boon and a bane.
“I got fully into dance after my graduation in commerce and post-graduation in journalism. I have been a difficult student for my mother, but then we were so similar. She was one of the most open-minded people I have ever seen. She was my teacher, mentor and confidante. It has been a boon to be her daughter, as I have learnt kathak from her like osmosis and that too from the age of two. On the other hand, it was about how I had to be as good as her, since I was her daughter. If I had turned out to be a bad dancer, people would have said I was getting shows because I was Maya Rao’s daughter. For a very long time, many didn’t know that I was her daughter. My mother had retained her maiden surname,” she says.
With a packed schedule ahead of her — from performances at the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s National Festival of Choreography in Manipur, Kathak India Festival and a collaboration with artist SG Vasudev in March for outreach programmes and workshops at STEM (Space, Time, Energy, Movement) Dance Kampni — Madhu has been exploring the abundant possibilities dance offers. But refusing to put her finger on just one of it as her original identity, she says she is looking at a balance. “It is about being in the deep-rooted tradition and looking at ways to connect with today’s times. Tradition and modernity co-exist in our everyday lives,” she says.