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Celebration. This word brings forth sentiments of joy, pride, relief, and happiness. Shivam Arts School of Kathak Dance will present “Celebration: A Rhythmic Journey Through 25 Years of Kathak Tradition.” The production will showcase a kaleidoscope of items under the artistic direction of Punam Kumar.

“Celebration” will feature Jatayu Moksha, a dance drama based on an episode from the epic Ramayan, by Sant Tulsidas.

Formerly known as Bhartiya Nritya Kendra, Shivam Arts opened its doors in 1983 to four students at the request of a few of Punam’s friends; they wanted their children to learn a little bit more about their Indian heritage. In December 1986, the school presented its first major stage production, “Introduction to Kathak Dance,” where over 40 students performed.

Though her students enjoy relative ease in preforming, Kumar says her story in India was quite different. “I grew up in an environment in a small town called Mathura, where public performances by grown girls was not so well appreciated. Whenever I performed, my parents would tell my guruji to inform the press not to publish any of my photographs. My father was not so much in favor of me performing  in out-of-town concerts,” she says.

Kumar weathered the social constraints and studied kathak for nearly 16 years and has extensive training in the Lucknow Gharana, which focuses on striking a fine balance between graceful hand movements and fast footwork. Her artistic vision and ability to strike this balance is evident in all of her choreography. Kumar has also adapted her teaching style to keep up with the times and understands that as the world becomes smaller, so do the connections of music and dance across the globe. The artistic director has choreographed items to Irish, Latin, and Bollywood music by fusing traditional kathak nuances with creative modern flair.

As the school grew with new locations and more students, Kumar grew as a guru. Her teaching style became more refined and her ability to bring out each student’s strengths is impressive.

What started out as a simple request from her friends has now turned into a well-respected cornerstone for the classical arts in the Southern California community. The school now has an enrollment of over 100 students, some of whom have been with Shivam Arts for over 20 years. She now has students as young as 4 to mothers who are just beginning to explore some cultural roots. Her ability to adjust her teaching style to any age group or skill level highlights her gift as a guru.

The students of Shivam Arts perform in annual dance recitals to provide each student the opportunity to perform to a public audience. Several senior students have performed their solo dance debuts to rave reviews. The school has also held several major dance productions that have had great success.
The “Celebration” dancers will be accompanied by live music by Ramesh Kumar (tabla), Radha Prasad (flute), Usha Sathe (vocals), and Paul Livingstone (sitar).

Saturday, Jan. 17, 6 p.m. La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. $20 general, $35 reserved. (714) 891-3799, (909) 860-4429.