Kathak in Canada would have faded into sidelines if not for Rina Singha

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Toronto's Kathak legend Rina Singha, 77, will be presenting a show starting Thursday, March 20 to Saturday, March 22 at Harbourfront Centre. The show is an ode to her guru Shambu Maharaj. Supplied photo.

Toronto’s Kathak legend Rina Singha, 77, will be presenting a show starting Thursday, March 20 to Saturday, March 22 at Harbourfront Centre. The show is an ode to her guru Shambu Maharaj.
Supplied photo.

The Indian dance form of Kathak can be described as a motion of pure grace and poetry.

There’s a certain economy of space and time. To a bystander unschooled in any dance form whatsoever, the dancer’s quick movements and the music’s short staccato bursts may appear completely in tandem.

In India, religion and arts, oddly enough are interwoven. For instance, the pursuit of classical dance and singing has by and large been the domain of Hindus and to some extent the Muslims.

So, it’s fascinating that Toronto native Rina Singha, 77, has not only elevated Kathak on the world platform, but as a Christian, she has immortalized her spirituality, faith and fables into a visually compelling stories through Kathak.

In what can be described as an ode to her teacher—Guru Shambu Maharaj—Singha, and choreographer/friend Danny Grossman are presenting Circle of Bricks- Rhythms of Kathak, starting Thursday, March 20 and running until Saturday, March 22, at the Harbourfront Centre (Fleck Dance Theatre). On Thursday and Friday the show will run at 8 p.m. on Saturday, it’s at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $30/person.

When Singha arrived in Toronto from India in 1965, she brought with her, her love for a dance form that may have been dismissed as “quixotic and exotic’ in the arts scene here. Over the next five decades, she worked tirelessly to ensure her beloved Kathak was part of the mainstream art scene.

At 77, Toronto's Rina Singha remains as committed as ever to Kathak. The Toronto native has single- handedly elevated Kathak into the mainstream arts scene here in Canada. Supplied photo

At 77, Toronto’s Rina Singha remains as committed as ever to Kathak. The Toronto native has single- handedly elevated Kathak into the mainstream arts scene here in Canada.
Supplied photo

A Canadian legend, a trailblazer and a dance icon, Singha’s role in keeping the embers of century-old dance alive here in Canada cannot be ignored.

The dancer was introduced to Kathak at 14. While pursuing her Masters degree, she was chosen—through a government-sponsored scholarship—to train under Guru Shambhu Maharaj. Maharaj is to Kathak what Wayne Gretzky is to hockey.

As Maharaj’s student, Singha learned by unlearning. She started from scratch. She mastered the slow tempos over and over again. Then she perfected the opening exercises for three hours everyday. This became her ritual for the next six months. A penchant for perfection and a strong dance ethic became the foundation on which she soared.

“The slow tempos helped to perfect the minute details and nuances of the wrists, neck and eyes, that highlighted the broader arm and body movements,” she recalled.

The next few decades saw Singha experiment with choreography. She enriched the pieces by sprinkling it with life experiences. Her works include: Songs From Exile Walls, Lullabye and Lament, Prithvi (an Earth Narrative) and full-length Biblical works: The Seekers: from the Garden of Eden to the Walls of Jericho.

Singha’s collaboration with Grossman, much like her meeting with Maharaj was orchestrated by destiny. Grossman’s expertise in Christian dance enabled India-born Singha to stray from the tried and tested formula. She created a new repertoire.

Kathak in Canada would have faded into anonymity if not for Rina Singha, 77, who immortalized Christian fables by connecting it to Kathak.

Kathak in Canada would have faded into anonymity if not for Rina Singha, 77, who immortalized Christian fables by connecting it to Kathak.
Supplied photo.

“I am a Christian and I was brought up on Bible stories,” Singha said. “These stories were more meaningful to me than the usual stories of Kathak repertoire, which I could relate to in terms of their human emotions, but not necessarily in terms of their spirituality.”

When incorporating biblical stories, Singha stuck by the rules and chose appropriate laya (speed/tempo) and tala (rhythm). After her first work Genesis, she went on showcase Yeshu Katha in 1991.

Singha describes Circle of Bricks as a “metaphor for creating meaningful Kathak works that extend beyond boundaries of space and time by becoming relevant to a new era, while maintaining the integrity of the dance form and remaining connected to its roots and the soil which first nurtured it.”

Knowing her, we know, it will be something that should not be missed.

For tickets visit here.

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