Mitali Sonar | Dancer & Teacher, Kathak
To gain a better understanding of what Indian artists are doing abroad, we decided to have a chat with Mitali Sonar, a Kathak dancer and teacher. She is currently working with New York’s Navatman, Inc. as a performer as well as a marketer.
Mitali moved to New York in 2018 to pursue her Masters in Performing Arts Administration. She went to Broadwayland in the hope of someday being equipped to use some of these skills for the Indian arts and make them the big deal that they are. Graduating during the pandemic in the arts industry, on an international visa, at the epicenter of COVID, made her question every decision of taking up her passion professionally. Like everywhere else in the world, the performing arts world even in its mecca, New York City (NYC), faced everything from cancellations, visa issues, furlows, weight shifts and increased muscle knots.
“Working for a small-mid sized company came as a blessing at such a time because unlike big players in the industry, Navatman, Inc. could take the chance to pivot, but not to shut down operations.” said Mitali, on finally getting a job just days before she graduated. Navatman, Inc., a performing arts organization in Manhattan is more like a home for the Indian classical performing arts in NYC. Mitali joined as a Marketer and Kathak teacher, roles that made her dream job. “I thought I’d take 10-15 years to land the perfect job, and that the pandemic would push it by another 2-3 years. Surprising things come out of the unexpected.”
Interestingly, Mitali says, enrollment for the Kathak classes increased threefold during the pandemic; she started with one group class and currently teaches six groups and even takes private classes now. She was very enthusiastic about getting back to the stage (albeit currently, in front of the camera) as a performer – “I am also working on various projects that tell the tales of ancient India and its mythology. Using my craft to spread Indian arts & culture to a broader audience is a personal goal that I’m fulfilling here.”
This March, she worked on a production called Krishna & the Lost Boys, a fun dance-acting-vocals project for kids as well as the kid in all of us. The pandemic gave Mitali a chance to work on her video editing – this production was filmed and edited by her. She also presented a dance section in it. It should soon be out for global distribution on Navatman’s website.
In May, Mitali will be presenting a pure Kathak repertoire choreographed by Guru Prashant Shah. “Our practices are over Zoom right now, but I can foretell the joy I am going to feel when we practice in person, and I am sure you sense my excitement!” From one artist to another, we know exactly what that feels like.
It also looks like NYC cannot have enough of indian folklore and mythologies – for a Diwali release, Mitali is currently working at and with Navatman Inc. to bring to life the Mahabharata. New York has seasonal shows that locals and tourists don’t fail to catch every year, such as Shakespeare in the Park during the summer and The Nutcracker during Christmas. With the Mahabharata, the aim is to give New York its celebration for Diwali! This version, with all-female scriptwriters and majority-female cast members, gives voice to all the female characters in the epic – something that has been narrowed down to one line (or sometimes none) in all the versions we’ve watched and read before.
“Best out of waste. That’s how I think of the past year. I would never have taken time to introspect. I wouldn’t have learnt to step out of the box of kathak knowledge. I wouldn’t have exposed myself to kalarippayattu, contemporary movement or the intricacies of dancing for the camera. I honestly feel more prepared to take on life better than I ever have.”