Episode 19: Farah Yasmeen Shaikh

I feel hugely successful simply to be doing something that I love so much.

"It's not something that can be taught, it's something one has to feel."

Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, International Kathak Artist, Instructor, On building bridges and performing storytelling through dance

Have you ever read a novel where you wished it could come alive? Where you fantasized about being in that period with the main characters, experiencing and feeling the emotions with them?  I had just that type of surreal experience when I had the opportunity to attend an awe-inspiring live musical production of one of my favorite novels, Indu Sundaresan’s, “The Twentieth Wife”.  When I learned that the world renowned Kathak artist, Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, was dedicating a live performance of dance with a narration from the author, Indu Sundaresan, I rushed to purchase tickets to see my favorite novel come into being.

Farah was trained for two decades by Kathak icon, the late Pandit Chitresh Das.  She is now a Kathak dance instructor, an internationally touring soloist, performing to sold out shows of her original choreographic works, most notably, The Twentieth Wife, all over the world.
Farah has a grace, charm and beauty about her; I saw it on stage and I saw it in her living room as she interacted with her young daughter and her student while I was recording this interview.  Farah’s mannerisms had an etiquette that was so prevalent in the old South Asian subcontinent history, from the way she spoke to her young daughter in Urdu to the way she had her student take her ghungroo (ankle bells) as she was getting ready to practice.   In Farah’s presence, I felt like I was transported back to an enchanted time talking with a reincarnation of a royal Mughal princess.  

Podcast Details

Find out from the podcast how Farah:

  • Had her breakthrough moment when she realized that Kathak dance was her calling
  • Faced misperceptions about dance in the Pakistani Muslim culture
  • Built cultural bridges through teaching dance to students  in Pakistan
  • Transformed herself into several characters in The Twentieth Wife’s production
  • Was shaped and influenced by her teacher, the late Pandit Chitresh Das
  • Had a cathartic moment when her experience with the Empress Noor Jehan came full circle 

"It became so clear to me that everything has its place and purpose- me picking up the book in 2006 and reading it and not until 2013 having the idea to make the dance performance, reaching out to Indu Sundaresan, having such a blessing of an opportunity to work with Indu so closely to develop the script, having her present for the premier, and coming full circle with Noor Jehan's tomb... It became a responsibility for me to tell the story of this powerful leader ".  -Farah Yasmeen Shaikh

About Farah

A rising name in the world of dance, known for her powerful and evocative storytelling, technical precision, delicacy, and grace, Farah Yasmeen Shaikh is breaking new ground, bringing a clairvoyant voice to the contemporary stage, whilst simultaneously maintaining the deep roots and traditional aspects of Kathak.  
Trained for two decades by Kathak icon, the late Pandit Chitresh Das, Farah was a lead dancer in the Chitresh Das Dance Company. She is now an internationally touring soloist, performing to sold out shows of her original choreographic works, most notably, The Twentieth Wife - telling the tale of Empress Noor Jahan, through a full-length performance of dance, live music, multimedia, and theater, based on the novel by author Indu Sundaresan. Currently touring in the U.S., The Twentieth Wife will tour internationally in 2017.
In January 2016, Farah was introduced to the artistic landscape of Pakistan where she has begun to  perform and teach on a regular basis, presented at various venues and institutions throughout the country.
Farah is also developing her newest production based on the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition which is set to premiere in 2017 in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Press Quotes, Coverage and Awards, click here