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Saswati Sen is a leading Indian exponent of Kathak, an Indian classical dance form. She is a senior disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj. She achieved early fame by dancing in Satyajit Ray's film, Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977), his invocation of Lucknow society at its "Paris of India" zenith.
Born to a family of legal and medical professionals, Saswati took to dance at an early age. Says Saswati, "My mother had enrolled me at Bhartiya Kala Kendra to learn Kathak under Reba Vidyarthi. I took to Kathak like a duck to water." After receiving her initial training at Delhi’s Kathak Kendra under the guidance of Smt Reba Vidyarthi, she received the National Scholarship in Performing Arts and graduated to become the prime disciple of Pt Birju Maharaj.
As the foremost disciple of Pt Birju Maharaj, she stands tall among her contemporaries in the way she has embellished Kathak by integrating the sacredness of a tradition with the creativeness of a contemporary approach. Saswati today is regarded as an artist with immense versatility and talent and one of the best exponents of the famed Lucknow gharana. She mostly teaches and performs with her Guru Birju Maharaj in his institute, Kalashram in Jor Bagh, New Delhi. She has trained a large number of students, of which many are from around the world. She has acquired the true style of her mentor and incorporates into her own presentation both the lyrical grace and rhythmic virtuosity of kathak. However, her forte is abhinaya which has always received high appreciation.
Choreography and Performances
Saswati's commitment in developing standards of Kathak has motivated her to conduct workshops and master classes not only all around the world, but all in the remote locales of India. She has also choreographed several short and major productions for students in the several workshops in India and abroad. Her leadership in motivating young minds, has also created several popular events – such as the 'Walk for Art' in Delhi and Mumbai; camps in music-dance-painting; quiz competitions for school-going students and panel discussions with teachers and performers sharing their various experiences. She has also been designing programmes wherein several dance forms and other media share the stage together and bring out their individual and collective spirit.
Saswati has choreographed several group compositions as well as dance-dramas. Some of her choreographic work includes
- Kathak yatra
- Kartik Vilaas
- Kshudita Pashan
- Romeo and Juliet
- Warna Rang
- Geed Govind
- Jal Yagna
- Krishna Katha (Joint Production)
- Habba Khatun (Joint Production)
- Surya Pranam
- Niyati Nayika
Saswati has performed extensively all around the world and has featured regularly on the National Program of Dance by Doordarshan, India's national television network. Some of the major festivals she has participated in are:
- Khajuraho Festival, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.
- Qutub Festival, New Delhi.
- Konark Festival, Konark, Orissa.
- Lucknow Mahotsav, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
- Kathak Prasang, Jaipur, Rajastahn and Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
- Taj Mahotsav, Agra, Uttar Pradesh.
- Dover Lane Conference, Kolkata, West Bengal.
- Sri Krishan Gana Sabha, Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
- RIMPA Festival, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
Performances and lecture demonstrations by her have been conducted in USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, Austria, China, UAE, Netherlands, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Switzerland, Indonesia, Bangkok, Myanmar, Budapest, Singapore among many others. Of the many tours she has participated in, some are: The 1st tour to USSR, Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia); A Tour to USA – Asia Society in 1974 (15 cities); The Cervantino Festival – Mexico, 1984; The Pan-Asiatic Fest in Italy; and Edinburgh Festival with Pt Birju Maharaj.
Kalashram, under the guidance of the legendary maestro Padma Vibhushan Pt Birju Maharaj and his foremost disciple, Saswati Sen, has been working extensively towards promoting and preserving traditional Indian Arts & Culture. Its activities include classroom teaching, workshops, master classes, lecture-demonstrations, seminars, performances and festivals. Kalashram organises four important festivals annually; Vasantotsava, Sadhana, Dikshantotsava and Holi Utsav.It focuses on imparting training mainly in the field of Kathak, along with various other associated disciplines i.e., Vocal & Instrumental music, Yoga, Painting, Sanskrit, Dramatics and Stagecraft.
Saswati today is the secretary and the driving force behind the institution which was her Guru, Pt Birju Maharaj's dream. Saswati travels extensively at home and abroad disseminating the knowledge she has gained over years of dedication and keeps the Kalashram Kathak community together. She has been very popular as a teacher and has been teaching regularly since 1980.
Awards and honors
Saswati Sen has been honored with:
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
- Sanskriti Award
- Shringar Mani Award and
- Critic’s Recommendation Award.
- "Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards 2004 Awards Ceremony & Festival". Sangeet Natak Akademi website. Retrieved 2 April 2010.