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  Life   Art  20 Feb 2024  Khalil Alashar, first Arab man to master kathak dance form

Khalil Alashar, first Arab man to master kathak dance form

THE ASIAN AGE. | LEKHA SHANKAR
Published : Feb 20, 2024, 11:50 pm IST
Updated : Feb 21, 2024, 7:21 am IST

Bahrain student captivated by sizzling rhythms and spins, was hooked by street performance as student in America

Khalil Alashar.
 Khalil Alashar.

It’s truly a melting point of cultures when an artiste from Bahrain performs Indian classical dance in the Thai capital of Bangkok. It’s even more exciting when the Bahraini artiste happens to be the only Arab man in the world to perform Indian dance!

But that’s what happened when Khalil Alashar gave a scintillating kathak dance performance at the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre in Bangkok, supported by the ICCR.

Khalil said he was proud and honored to perform for the Indian Council of Cultural Relations. He had earlier performed for them at the Nehru Centre in London, which had been well received.

Khalil’s foray into Indian dance happened by accident when he went to study political science at California State University in 2008. One evening, he saw the announcement for an Indian dance performance at a street corner. He attended and got hooked.

Khalil joined the Nupur Dance Academy in Los Angeles, training under Guru Prachi Dixit, and soon became one of its top dancers, and later a teacher. He travelled around the world, including India.

His political science course expanded to include religious studies, so that Khalil could understand the Hindu religious tales that he expounded on the dance stage.

Among the many productions he did with the Nupur Dance Academy was a dance-drama called The Sword and the Flute, centering on Kali and Krishna, in which he played both roles! One of their newest productions is Ek Radha Ek Meera, centering on Krishna’s two women, one filled with love and the other filled with devotion. The academy hopes to take this to India and other countries soon.

Khalil is proud that his performances in India are warmly praised by the critics and audiences. After all, he trained under noted gurus like Tejaswini Sathe from Pune, Maulik Shah and Ishira Parikh from Ahmedabad, Abhimanu Lal and Vidha Lal from New Delhi, and Guru Murali Mohan Kalvakalva from Bengaluru. He passed the Sangeet Visharad examinations, and acquired a master’s degree in dance from Bharati Vidyapeeth.

One of Khalil’s proudest moments is when he won the Nritya Shiromani title at the seventh Cuttack Mahotsav in Odisha, India, in 2015.

He has performed in several countries, and won praise everywhere. He states simply that this was because he carefully planned his dance programmes according to the tastes of the audience in each country.

In Bangkok he started with a Ganesh stuthi because he knows that Ganesh is a popular deity there. In fact, he hopes to create and perform a composition on Buddha, soon.

During his wide travels around the world, Khalil has met and collaborated with many foreign artistes who practise Indian dance. He spoke of a large number of kathak dancers in Japan, a Bharatanatyam performer in Portugal and an Indian dance troupe called Deepa’s Dancing Divas in Denmark. But he said that he has never met a male dancer anywhere!

He admitted that it was “very challenging” to be the lone male exponent of Indian dance.

Khalil’s career as a kathak dance exponent in Bahrain has been challenging, too. It took a long time for his family to accept his vocation. But when they did, they built a dance studio for him. He also helped in the family business of property management which kept him closely connected to them.

Khalil’s main focus in Bahrain is his Tatkaar School of Kathak, where he teaches the dance form to his many Indian students, some of them as young as eight years. He also regularly performs at Indian functions in Bahrain as there is a huge Indian community there.

“Many say I’m more Indian than them,” Khalil says.

Khalil admits that it is the sizzling rhythms and chakkars (spins) that excite him most about kathak dance.

Khalil himself practices his dance for an hour every day, not only to keep in touch with the taals but also to remember the songs and the poetry of the stories he performs. He is fascinated that kathak had both Hindu and Muslim roots, and proud that he can relate to both.

The dancer shares that he is disturbed by the recent riots between Muslims and Hindus in India as also by the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. “The path is the same in all religions,” he opines. That is why he is proud that Bahrain is an open-minded society with temples, mosques, gurdwaras and a synagogue.

As a successful kathak dancer for 15 years, Khalil feels very fulfilled. But he confesses that there is one job he still longs for, to be a flight attendant in an airline! Why? It would fulfil his passion for travel, and his desire to give pleasure.

In many ways, though, Khalil has managed to do these things as a dancer. “Kathak has given me everything,” Khalil says with feeling.

 

Tags: indian classical dance, kathak, khalil alashar