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Honoring water through dance, from India to Minnesota


A woman in blue and white traditional Indian dress dances by the shore of the Mississippi river.
"Ganga: A Choreographic Odyssey" mixes film and live-action dance-drama depicting the mythological tale of the creation of the Ganges River (River Ganga) of India. The production also emphasizes the need to protect and conserve water sources like the Ganges and the Mississippi.

"Ganga: A Choreographic Odyssey" celebrates the iconic river with classical Indian dance and a cross-cultural twist.  


Directed and choreographed by Katha Dance Theater Co-founder Rita Mustafi, "Ganga: A Choreographic Odyssey" is an environmental tale that begins in India – Mustafi’s homeland – and transitions to her new home here in Minnesota. The live dance performance is combined with the film “Ganga to Mississippi,” filmed both in India and Minnesota.


“This is such a wonderful story to tell… The river I was born by, the river I live by, the water that every living being needs,” said Mustafi.


The performance includes 10 musicians and 13 dancers. Mustafi, who was born in Kolkata near the Ganga river (before the British invaded and changed the name to Ganges), says this production was inspired by a research trip she went on with her husband. They wanted to know how a river so culturally significant could be so polluted. 


“What we have done to the nature, nature is revenging on us.  I don't want to end on a note that we are dying. We want to end on a note with hope. And the hope comes from what we can do to bring it up,” said Mustafi.


She says while on the trip she realized that the further the source of water was away from high traffic areas, the healthier it was. One of the ironies of Hindu culture is that they believe water is connected to God, but the river also serves as a communal waste site. 


“It's the (Hindu) angel culture that the river Ganga is a heavenly origin… Would help us to be united with the Supreme Soul. So we would worshiping to the river by throwing flower petals and sweets and whatnot… Most of it is biodegradable, which is okay. But then at the same time, without being aware of the worst effect, people are throwing plastics into the river. Industrial waste is coming. Gallons and gallons of industrial waste.”


She says in India it is common for dead bodies to be cremated in the Ganga, for religious reasons. But many families can’t afford enough wood to cremate the bodies properly. 


“So often, half burned bodies are thrown into the river because of the belief the river will give me sanctity, give me a way to be united with God. So there's all kinds of beliefs that go with it,” says Mustafi. “Knowingly or unknowingly, we're polluting the river. And in the process, the river is choking. And when it goes to the ocean, it can hardly breathe.”


She says migrating to Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, she felt the familiarity of living near water. She says she and her husband continued their research up the Mississippi near Itasca. Mustafi says it was when she connected with Ojibwe leader and Indigenous activist, Sharon Day, that she uncovered harmonious views regarding the cultural significance of water. Leading to the Mississippi portion of the film, Ganga to Mississippi


“Here's the holy Ganga that we believe has descended from heaven… And here's the Mighty Mississippi that our Native American brothers and sisters, they believe it's their holy river. So why not show the similarities and how the rivers are revered in cultures?” said Mustafi.


Mustafi says she wants this production to help create a better world for future generations, and help people to understand just how significant and vital water is for all humans.  


“Ganga: A Choreographic Odyssey” premiers at Concordia University’s E.M. Pearson Theatre tonight and runs through Sunday. For tickets and more information, visit KathaDance.org.

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