Steps on the Silk Road

Renowned Indian choreographer Guru Shama Bhate is here in Israel to perform for the first time as well as teach a master class for local dancers

Indian choreographer Guru Shama Bhate. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Indian choreographer Guru Shama Bhate.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nearly four decades into her career, one would expect that Guru Shama Bhate had done it all, conquered every milestone, turned every corner.
Yet the renowned Kathak performer, choreographer and teacher is constantly discovering new things, attempting new feats and bolstering her connection with the younger generations. In fact, keeping a fresh eye trained on her industry is what ensures Bhate’s relevance.
“I work in a traditional art form and live in a modern world. I work with young minds. It poses a challenge, a constant paradox, which makes every minute of it a stimulating experience,” said Bhate in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Next week, Bhate, 68, will experience several firsts. She will visit Israel for the first time and will perform alongside a philharmonic orchestra for the first time as well.
Her three-city tour of Israel, which includes performances in Beersheba, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, comes at the invitation of acclaimed musician and conductor Chen Zimbalista.
Bhate, along with dancers from the Dance Academy Nadroop, will join Zimbalista and Indian tabla legend Charudatta Phadke in an evening entitled Sounds of the Silk Road.
The program will include compositions by Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saëns among others. The performances in Beersheba will be accompanied by The Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva while the Jerusalem performance will bring the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra to the stage. This is the third performance in Zimbalista’s 2017 family series.
Bhate was born and raised in Belgaum, now Belagavi, India. She began dancing at the age of four.
“I do not remember a day when I was not dancing,” she said. “My parents put me there as a child and I am happy dancing ever since. As I grew, my understanding of the world around me also came through dance and I started relating everything around me with dance.”
At that time, in 1950s India, the natural choice of dance style was Kathak. Over the years, as her connection with the form deepened, Bhate followed the evolution of the traditional practice from its roots to its modern- day interpretation.
Kathak originated in North India, like all other Indian dance styles in the temples. It was totally devotional in content and spirit at that point.
It then traveled to the courts of kings and the character changed. The dancers had to please their Muslim lords.
The dance reflected the emotional fervor and depicted human life. Some dancers served the Hindu kings and developed a varied repertoire of intricate rhythmic compositions.
They also were performing physical feats like pirouettes and virtuousic footwork. After India’s independence, the dance arrived on theater stages and the character changed drastically once again.
The dancers needed to be aware of the big space, had to explore their technique and grammar to suit the new scene. The substance and content underwent transformations and so did the dance presentations.
Now, Kathak dance has a spiritual character, explores a lot of the rhythmic elements, explores space through movements, gestures and forms and the expressionist aspect where human life, aspirations, frustrations, love and hope are portrayed.
When training her dancers, Bhate attempts to give tools to succeed on stage.
“The new generation of dancers face different challenges. A simple example... The duration of a performance used to be two hours minimum at one time... now, it’s reduced to half, sometimes even less. A person has to make it a complete experience, cover all aspects, without lingering or hastening, acquiring flash and stability. Life is a lot faster and a dancer needs to mold one’s dance accordingly.”
While in town, Bhate will teach a master class at the Inbal Dance Theater. In this meeting, she will allow local dancers to taste elements from her daily practice.
“I have great faith in riyaz, or daily practice. A dancer’s body must be perfectly tuned for a performance. I personally like to look inwards, get in tune with music, concentrate my energies at the time of a performance,” she said.
Sounds of the Silk Road will be performed on March 28 at the Beersheba Performing Arts Center ( and at the Jerusalem Theater on March 30 ( Bhate’s master class will take place at Inbal Theater on March 27.