Spiritual origins

Kathak is a form of classical Indian dance that can be traced back to the Hindu storytellers – kathakars – of medieval northern India. Passed from generation to generation, stories celebrating the lives of religious deities were sung or recited, often with a dance element included.

Muslim emperors

By the sixteenth century Kathak had become a form of entertainment in the Mughal courts. Here, under the influence of Persian dance and music, Kathak’s spiritual emphasis gave way to secular elements such as popular dance and folk stories.

During this period, it was often performed by tawaifs, or courtesans, who greatly refined the art. Tawaifs occupied a position in the feudal courts not unlike that of Japanese Geishas and were trained from youth to a very high standard in both the performing arts and literature.

What is Kathak?

British Empire

Under British rule, Kathak declined. It was seen as base and unwholesome by the Victorians. Tawaifs were denigrated as immoral and the form regarded as existing purely for the purpose of seduction.

Despite this period of cultural repression Kathak survived, kept alive by dedicated tawaifs. By the early twentieth century it was being carried forward by a new generation of dancers and dance gurus.


Nowadays Kathak is officially recognised as one of the eight forms of classical Indian dance. Popular in India once more, contemporary Kathak is a synthesis of its varied past, combining everything from its spiritual roots to folkloric elements, mythological themes and courtly traditions.


Conventional Kathak performances often start slowly, progressing to an ever faster tempo and ending in a dramatic climax. They include a combination of short and long dance compositions – tukras and todas. Most compositions also use bols, rhythmic words which can be recited either as a reminder for the dancers or as an integral part of the performance.

Rhythmic patterns in Kathak can be complex. While a percussive instrument such as the tabla may express the rhythmic cycle, dancers often engage in rhythmic play within a time cycle, creating a counterpoint to the underlying rhythm.

Explore the process

A lost art?
A bridge to India
Immersed in music
When Worlds Collide
The Idea (learning to dance)
Natural curiosity and questions (learning to dance)
Composer thoughts on Learning to Dance
In the presence of geniuses
The story (love and spice)
A dancer reflects on The Strategists (1)
Overview of The Strategists
Breakdown of The Strategists
Roundness of 12: a breakdown of the piece
Breakdown of the piece (love and spice)
Script (12)
Painter research
A dancer reflects on Love and Spice
Full Contact – highlights from the script
Dancer notes performance (flatlands)
Peacock Lake – genesis of the concept
Firing up the Mehfil Machine
The Collaborators
Creative Case – challenges along the way
The Guru-Shishya relationship
What is Kathak?
Life blood
Collaboration: Balbir & Gary
Colouring your emotions
Covid-19 Update on Monday, April 6th, 2020
Creative Case in action – July to September 2019
Finding my way in The Creative Spirit of John Curry
Talent Development – Abirami Eshwar
Talent Development – Kimberley Hardy
Collaborators: Lorna Brown and Gary Beacom
The Work: Act 1
The Work: Act 2
Planning the show
The 8 Dances
Who was Hans Krebs?
The Citric 
 Acid cycle
Balbir’s thoughts behind the work
Balbir on developing the work
Amrita Sher-Gil & Frida Kahlo
My favourite painting is. . .
Balbir reflects on The Two Fridas
Cast one
Devising in lockdown
Las dos Fridas
‘Alas Para Volar (Wings to Fly)’
Amrita – a story that lives in Art