Mayura Casuba: A rising young Kathak artiste
by Bhasyam G Iyengar, NY
Mayura in Sanskrit means peacock, the synonym for dance and grace. Living up to one's name is not all that common. Only a few do, and Mayura Casuba is one among this rare breed. A born New Yorker, her antecedents have their roots in Bangalore, a renowned south Indian city. Her grand father Prof Gopalakrishna was principal of Viswesvarayya college of Engineering, a very familiar personality in the academic community and her grand mother Anandamma in her late nineties is busy watching and blessing the talented youngsters of the sprawling Casuba family. Father Ravindranath Casuba and mother Vatsala Casuba inducted Mayura into classical Kathak dance at the young age of 10. The chosen guru was none other than Pt. Satya Narayana Charka, an internationally renowned Kathak maestro and choreographer who hails from the schools of great Indian Kathak dancers of the likes of Pt. Birju Maharaj, Smt Maya Rao among others.
Mayura graduated from the East-West school of dance, Monroe, New York in 2000. Pt Charka is the founder director of East-West school of dance, under whose guidance and teaching, Mayura's talent has blossomed to its full capacity. Carrying with her the Guru's blessings and parents' wishes, she is pursuing the art of Kathak with the zeal of a performing professional artiste.
Mayura made her debut on the stage at 17, featuring in poet Kalidasa's legendary play "Shakuntala", a dance drama presented by East-West School of Dance, Monroe, NY, produced, choreographed and directed by her Guru Pt. Charka, on 27th June '99 at Morris Haft Auditorium, NY, and it was an instant hit. Later on, the dance drama was reproduced as a film, which now reckons as a benchmark production in depiction of classical Indian Kathak dance in its true grace and finesse. In the artistic parameter, the film is hailed as a unique production, savored by art lovers in and outside USA alike.
Guru Smt Maya Rao, a pioneer in Kathak dance and a living legend in her own right, toured USA in July '99 and conducted a series of rigorous and versatile workshops in Kathak and other dance/culture related syllabus, sponsored by the East-West School of Dance. Mayura enrolled and actively participated in the workshops styled 'From Tradition to Modernity' which sharpened her dancing talents and imparted theoretical education of the dance school. She was trained on the lines of Natya Shastra (an ancient treatise on dance and dramaturgy), which, during its course of education, broadened her insight of history of Indian dance, choreographic possibilities of Folk dance, Abhinaya (Art of Expression), Kathak form and content and the Indian Ballet movement in 20th century, among other things. She drew much praise from Gurus Maya Rao and Pt. Charka for her creative participation in the workshops. Soon, another workshop by the celebrated Kathak master Pt. Birju Maharaj followed and Mayura promptly seized the opportunity. The workshops were assisted by Madhu Nataraj Heri, daughter and disciple of Smt Maya Rao and Saswati Sen along with dancers and musicians from Bangalore and New Delhi.
Shakuntala, by then a classic production, was staged in McCarthy Middle School, Massachusetts on Nov 21st 99, and Mayura was a part of the team, which featured Kiran Chouhan as Shakuntala and Pt. Charka as King Dushyantha. The show drew huge applause and praise from the knowledgeable audience. Again on 4th December '99, it was replayed before a substantial gathering at Ananda Ashram, Monroe. Later, during the night, Mayura performed with other students of East-West School in the show 'Prarambh', a dynamic orchestration with skillful movements of Kathak. The music was provided by Pandit Ravi Shankar, and Pt. Charka choreographed. This was followed by participation in another well-known Kathak dance drama, Ramayana, at Martin Van Buren High School, Queens, NY. The great Indian Epic portrayed in nine breathtaking scenes was spearheaded by the famous dancing duo of Nirupama and T D Rajendra of Abhinava Arts Center, Bangalore, held the audience spellbound, the local press observed. Pt. Charka who choreographed the show, remarked on the culture content of Kathak, while receiving the plaque of appreciation and hailed the young artistes of the team for contributing to the growth of Indian culture in USA.
During January 2000, while she visited India, Mayura performed at Dvanyaloka, Mysore before an invited audience and her 'Maduban mey Radhika' presentation caught special attention and Prof C D Narasimhaiah, founder, Dvanyaloka remarked that she danced like a peacock, justifying the choice of her name, an observation parallel to the contents of the opening sentences of this article.
Then came the eventful and turning point of her dance career, the graduation and formal Rangapravesh on September 23, 2000 at the Hindu Temple Auditorium, Flushing, NY. Blessed by her Guru, Mayura danced her way to glory in front of hundreds of invited audience, watched by the satisfied parents and relatives, happy friends and admiring assorted well wishers among others. The presentation began with 'Saraswathi Vandanam'-an invocation to the goddess of knowledge after which she proceeded to take the blessings of her Guru, Pt. Charka. Dancing gracefully to the live music renditions, she played Lord Krishna in 'Thumri-Avat Shyam' and went on to present 'Kaliya Mardhan', an important episode from the life of Lord Krishna. Kathak Parampara and a gazal followed by the final performance 'Tarana' drew thunderous applause from the audience. "A star is born" was the often-repeated remark. Indian Reporter in its issue dated September 29, 2000 hailed the arrival of the "rising young Kathak star". "Congrats Mayura" said The Eagle dated October 14, 2000. Mr. Srinivasan Casuba, eldest member of the Casuba family, who was also the chief guest spoke spontaneously and drew the attention of the audience to the unique trait of Kathak, which synthesizes the Mughal and Hindu dance art forms. Overwhelmed by emotion, he lamented the subsequently generated gulf and rift between the followers of the two ancient cultures and wondered about the ill effects of Indo-Pak skirmishes. And that was Mayura Casuba at 19!
Along with her Caribbean teammate Romanee Kalicharran, Mayura, portraying Radha enthralled the audience at the South Street Seaport, Manhattan, NY, to the delight of the Diwali festival crowd. The Eagle featured both the artists prominently. Diwali 2000 was special and charming. East-West school of Dance celebrated its 20th anniversary at the Hindu Temple Community Center, Flushing, NY on December 2, 2001 and the students honored their Guru Pt Charka and Mayura offered her pranams (gratitude/salutation) through selected pieces of Kathak with impeccable taste. On July 27, 2002 the classic Ramayana was played again in Ananda Ashram, Monroe, NY, matching the serene and austere atmosphere of the Ashram and the spiritually oriented audience savored every moment of the action on the stage by Guru Charka and student Mayura. Coming on the heels were two shows of 'Krishna Leela' at Brookdale Park Stadium, Bloomfield, New Jersey on August 3, 2002 and at Kensico dance plaza at Valhalla, NY, on August 11. Mayura ended up with repeated admirations. Renowned Kannada (South Indian) poet Prof Nisar Ahmed and legendary Indian cricketer of yesteryears B S Chandrashekar were among the invited special guests for a cultural function on September 22, 2002 at Francis Lewis High School, Flushing, NY, when Mayura with her team members entertained the gathering with versatile pieces of Kathak. Then there was the usual Diwali 2002 function during which she entertained the festival crowd with a few programs. She ended the season 2002 with participation in the 21st anniversary of her school.
Mayura Casuba is an upcoming Kathak dancer and much more! She is an accomplished pianist as well. Trained by her Russian teacher Zinaida Aminova, she graduated in June 2000, presenting her talent in a musical evening at YHWA, Queens, NY. She is into the last phase of her graduation in Bachelor of Business Administration from Baruch College, City University of NY and very much intends to pursue her Masters. Her academic track record is excellent. Gifted with flying fingers on the computer, as nimble as her feet, which dance to the call of Kathak, a career in computer information systems is one of the professional ambitions. Currently with Citigroup as one of their portfolio assistants, she served Community Service Society as an administrative Assistant, both on part time basis. She has lot of citations for community service, extra-curricular activities, language skills and music. She has certificates of merit in science and math.
She is all this and is just 21! Surely, a "star worth watching." Good luck and best wishes to you, Mayura Casuba.