Kathak Benefit to Aid Untermyer Gardens

The Parul Shah Dance Company will perform at the Indo-Persian gardens

Laya Neelakandan

On Sunday, September 19, the Parul Shah Dance Company will perform a set of Kathak pieces as part of a benefit performance, the Mughal Garden Party, to support the Untermyer Gardens, which boasts the finest Indo-Persian gardens in the western hemisphere.

The gardens, located in Yonkers, NY, 30 minutes north of New York City, overlook the Hudson River. The evening begin at 4 p.m. with tours of the garden, followed by the dance performance at 5 p.m. It will end with a wine reception at 6 pm with Indian canapés. Tickets are for $150 and $500. The proceeds will be used to restore and maintain the gardens. The benefit is co-chaired by Aroon Shivdasani and Heena Pai.

Parul Shah Dance Company is New York’s premier classical and contemporary Indian dance company. Artistic Director Parul Shah, an internationally-acclaimed dancer and choreographer, said she and her dancers plan to perform a few pieces focusing on more traditional work. While the dance company usually fuses the style of Kathak with “contemporary sensibilities,” Shah said she wanted to choreograph more traditional pieces that were called for people to be physically apart, given the threat of COVID-19.

The finale is a new piece by Shah, a fusion of Kathak and contemporary styles. Shah said the piece focuses on the fundamental aspect of Kathak as a hybrid dance form that includes influences from Islamic and Hindu aesthetics.

“The theme is really about looking at our world right now and the deep divides we’re living in, and also [about] ideas of how, when we do have a dialogue and communicate with one another, we can create peace and beautiful work,” Shah said. “The piece is showing emotions and feelings of the ‘other’ and fear, and when that happens, there are feelings of animosity and hate, but so many other doors open up when we connect and allow for love to occur and commingle.”

Shah said the dance emphasizes finding “spaces of unity and connection,” a theme she says is perfectly encapsulated by the Kathak dance style. As a choreographer, Shah said she focuses on using her voice to “speak about marginalized communities that have had their voices suppressed.”

“The way our work is created is really led by the narrative of the story, rather than being concerned with what the language might be, Kathak or contemporary,” Shah explained. “That’s what’s really powerful about all of the arts — it allows us to look at a narrative through empathy.”

Aroon Shivdasani, one of the co-chairs for the benefit, praised Shah’s talent, calling her a “maestro” for her choreography and dancing. Shivdasani said Shah was invited to perform a dance “to reflect the beauty of the gardens in Persia and the Taj Mahal in India.”

“Parul is an absolutely amazing dancer and will mesmerize the audience dressed in Mughal garb, surrounded by music and exquisite flowers lining sublime lilting canals,” Shivdasani said. She said the Mughal Garden Party is the first event showcasing the Untermyer Gardens to the Indian community.

“This benefit has two main objectives: to introduce Indian Americans to the gardens and to raise money to maintain and improve them,” Shivdasani said.

To attend the event, all guests must be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination to enter. Guests must RSVP by September 10.