• Name Maya Rao
  • Country India
  • Vocation Not Available
  • Education Not Available
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Maya Rao (2 May 1928 – 1 September 2014) was an Indian classical dancer, choreographer and educator, in Kathak dance. She is known for her pioneering work in Kathak choreography, especially in dance ballets, and is credited for bringing Kathak, a North Indian-dance style to South India, when she opened her dance school, Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (NIKC) in Malleswaram, Bangalore in 1987.She was also the founder director of her dance company, “Natya and Stem Dance Kampni”, an amalgam of NIKC and the STEM Dance Kampni ( founded by her daughter Madhu Nataraj) based in Bangalore. After her early training under Guru Sohanlal of Jaipur Gharana, followed by Guru Sunder Prasad also of the Jaipur Gharana, and went to train under Guru Shambhu Maharaj of Lucknow Gharana at National Institute of Kathak Dance in Delhi.

She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, given by Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama in 1989. In 2011, the Akademi awarded her the Sangeet Natak Akademi Tagore Ratna, given to 100 artists from across India to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, for their contribution in the field of performing arts.

She moved to Jaipur in 1951,in search of Kathak. She also started teaching English at the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ Public School for next two years. She then moved to Sri Lanka and studied Kandyan dance with legendary dancer, Chitrasena. Subsequently, in 1955, she received the prestigious Government of India scholarship and trained under noted Guru, Shambhu Maharaj of the Lucknow Gharana at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra, New Delhi. She was the first student of the Kendra and Pt Shambhu Maharaj was the first Guru. She was the only student he ever danced with in all his life. In 1960, she was selected for the USSR Cultural Scholarship in Choreography to study for her Master’s in Choreography. Upon her return from Russia in 1964, with the help of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, then Vice Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi, she started the Natya Institute of Choreography in Delhi under the aegis of the Bharatiya Natya Sangh.

Thereafter, she was based in Delhi for several years before she moved NIKC to Bangalore on invitation from the then Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, which opened on 12 July 1987.Already known for her abhinaya anga, she has to her credit several notable dance ballets production, such as Venkateshwara Vilasam, Kathak through the Ages, Art and Life, Surdas, Barsha Mangal, Tarana, Ramayana Darshanam, Hoysala Vaibhava, The Vision of Amir Khusrau, Tulsi Ke Ram, and Urubhanga by Bhasa, besides Krishnadevaraya, Vijayanagara Vaibhava, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar’s Kaamana Billu and works of noted Kannada writer Kuvempu.

She became the chairperson of Karnataka Sangeet Nritya Academy, state academy for music and dance, and during her tenure from 1987 to 1990, she started National Performing Arts Festivals at heritage monuments of the state, like Somanathapura, Pattadakal and Halebidu.She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Creative dance/Choreography, given by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama in 1989 She was awarded Rajyotsava Award, second highest civilian honour of the Karnataka state in 1986 and the Shantala Award for the year 1999, by Government of Karnataka. In 2013, she received the ‘Tagore Ratna’ award, given Sangeet Natak Akademi, also in the same year she received the lifetime achievement award for her contribution to dance and choreography at the Epic Women conference.Over the years, she has trained over 3,000 students, notably, Nirupama Rajendra, Syed Sallauddin Pasha, Satya Narayana Charka, Shambhu Hegde, Shivananda Hegde, and Nandini Mehta.

Her daughter Madhu Nataraj is an acclaimed dancer and choreographer, and started STEM Kampni, a branch of NIKC.She continued as s a consultant choreographer at her institute till her last days. Maya Rao’s autobiography, Maya Rao – A Lifetime in Choreography was completed by her in 2013 and released by playwright and Jnanpith awardee Shri Girish Karnad in July 2014.

She died of massive cardiac arrest shortly after midnight on 1 September 2014, at M S Ramaiah Memorial Hospital, Bangalore, where she was admitted around 11.30 pm due complains of breathlessness and chest pain. She was survived by her sisters Chitra Venugopal and Uma Rao, and daughter Madhu Nataraj, Kathak and contemporary dancer.


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