As the only daughter of Kathak doyenne Maya Rao, Madhu Nataraj’s predicted career path was to become a dancer like her mother. However, as a stubborn teenager, Madhu refused to dance, even when she was 15. For the next five years, she did everything else — from theatre to painting to cartooning to mad ads.
She got the opportunity to conceptualise projects that required skills in economics and management during her B.Com. at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru. In her final year, she was even preparing for CAT exams and showed all signs of becoming an adept management expert. But that was when destiny struck — she had to attend a workshop in Delhi.
At the workshop where contemporary dancers from around the world had gathered, one of them asked Madhu to try out an activity. “Can you demonstrate 30 movements with your forefinger,” challenged Sara Pearson, a New York-based choreographer. Watching the permutations and combinations of movement displayed by Madhu, Ms. Pearson observed the ease with which she could do it. “If you could come up with 30 different movements using a forefinger, think of how many you can create with your whole body!” Ms. Pearson had whispered in her ears. “It struck me hard and got me thinking, why I was running away from what I was good at,” admits Madhu.
“That day I confessed to my mother over a call that I wanted to pursue dance and enrol for the choreography course at her institute.” While she learnt all aspects of dance at Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, Bengaluru, she simultaneously enrolled for a course in journalism at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. “As it was English that was actually at work in my management projects, I wanted to try my hand at writing too,” she mentions about her tryst with the English language.
“To this day, my journalistic skills have come to my aid while writing the synopsis of my dance productions, content for my blog and for brochures,” explains Madhu, who also writes for journals and magazines on dance. Talking about her future plans in writing, she hopes to a pen a book on injury prevention for performing artistes. “Also a novel perhaps,” she adds playfully.
Stem Dance Kampni
After getting trained in contemporary dance from USA, she returned to India to set up the Stem Dance Kampni, the performing wing of Natya Institute. Madhu felt that in order to present Indian issues, it was necessary for her to bring elements of Indian dance traditions into the western contemporary style. “The theories and skills of management that I had acquired as a B.Com. student came to my rescue in running Kampni at a young age,” acknowledges Madhu, who has efficiently linked her knowledge in various spheres.
An established dancer in Kathak and contemporary idioms for over two decades, she developed a fascination for human culture and history. Reading on the world history of movement mesmerised Madhu which made her join a master’s degree in Anthropology from Indira Gandhi Open University recently.
So many areas of specialisation — dance, commerce, language and anthropology! Does having multiple interests distract Madhu? Apparently, nothing exists in isolation for her. “My signature style is collaboration,” says the danseuse who has blended elements from various dance forms and integrated her experience in different fields into her profession and daily life.
“Everyone needs to explore and experience diverse things in their teenage years and stick to a particular field only when they are sure of creating a niche for themselves in that,” advises Madhu, who herself did a variety of activities such as organising fests, market research and modelling in her adolescent years.