Indian Kathak and Spanish Flamenco Intersect in “De Sevilla” Debut

Maha Akhtar will connect India and Andalusia to New York City when she teams with Spanish dancer, choreographer and mentor Juan Polvillo on May 10th and 11th at Joe’s Pub in “De Sevilla,” a program that promises to be as original as it is exotic and powerful. She and Polvillo have choreographed two pieces which they will dance as a pair for two performances each night, at 7:30 and 9:30. Joe’s Pub is located at 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10003. Tickets: $20.

The intersection of flamenco and kathak, the classical dance of North India, is one that many people don’t even know exists. Yet the dancers/choreographers Maha Akhtar and Juan Polvillo are creating a unique kind of magic at exactly the point they meet.

One of Akhtar’s key inspirations: her grandmother, Anita Delgado, a flamenco dancer from Málaga, Spain. A new book by Javier Moro chronicling Delgado’s life and scandalous marriage to the Maharajah of Kapurthala, “Pasión India,” has enthralled readers across Spain. Actress Penélope Cruz has personally bought the film rights to the book, according to the author.

The performance will definitely reflect a mix of cultures,” says Akhtar. “It will trace a path between Andalusia and northern India.” The program will comprise two solo dances, a musical and song number, and the Akhtar/Polvillo duet dances, the performers moving from India through Moorish territory and into the land of flamenco. An expanded production of “De Sevilla” is planned this Fall, beginning in

Sevilla at Fundación Tres Culturas and moving on to performances in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and other cities in India.

Juan Polvillo has toured extensively all over the world and performed in front of the late Pope John Paul II, President George Bush Sr., King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía of Spain, and King Hassan II of Morocco. He has worked with the best in his field, including Manolo Marín, La Tona and José Galván. A true believer in the international nature of flamenco, Polvillo’s school attracts students from around the globe.

Supporting the dancers will be guitarist José Manuel Tudela, who created the original music for the program; flamenco vocalist Emilio Cabello, who sings for Manuela Carrasco, Jose Galvan, Juana Amaya and Rafael Campallo; and flamenco vocalist El Tañe, who works primarily with Antonio El Pipa and Juana Amaya. Young Indian tabla player Sanju Sahai provides percussion for the ensemble, and
was recommended to Akhtar by tabla master Zakir Hussain.

Maha Akhtar (La Maha) began her training in kathak began at the age of six and eventually found herself studying with the teacher she calls the “George Balanchine of modern kathak,” Birju Maharaj. By 14 she was dancing professionally both as a soloist and in larger choreographed productions performed throughout India, the Middle East and Singapore.

At 17, she interrupted dancing to pursue an education in the U.S. where she earned a degree from Bryn Mawr. She moved to New York City after graduation, worked in the music industry, and for the last 12 years has served as a producer and assistant to Dan Rather at CBS News.

But she has never lost her passion for the creativity and freedom that dance afforded her from an early age. Six years ago, however, she decided to pursue a discipline that had fascinated her even as a child: flamenco. Completely taken by her initial studies in New York, Akhtar began traveling to Sevilla to study with Juan Polvillo.

The spark for “De Sevilla” was ignited in New York when Akhtar met several well known flamenco dancers experimenting with a fusion of flamenco and jazz, tap, hip hop and rap. “I suggested that they try to move flamenco forward by looking back,” she says, “and looking to the East, to the links between flamenco and kathak.”

She was subsequently asked by the University of Sevilla’s flamenco department to give a series of lectures on the similarities between flamenco and kathak, and later to put on several productions based on her interpretation of their connections. The result gets its U.S. showing during the Joe’s Pub run. An expanded version of the program, including Indian sitar, is planned for the full production.

Both flamenco and kathak have a rhythmic language,” points out Akhtar. “In flamenco there are certain dances, like the seguiriya which Juan and I will be performing, where you can draw a straight line to Indian classical dance. To me it’s almost primal. It’s incredibly dramatic.”

Tickets available at the Public Theater box office or through
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Doors open at 6:00pm