Rukhmani Mehta
Rukhmani Mehta is one of Leela Dance Collective’s artistic directors | Credit: Margo Moritz

Leela Dance Collective, the Los Angeles-based internationally touring kathak dance company, recently announced that it has reached its initial $1 million goal for The Leela Foundation.

Leela Dance Collective, founded in 2016, advances North Indian classical dance through traditional works and cross-genre collaborations, bringing the art to contemporary audiences. Under the direction of prominent kathak artists Rukhmani Mehta, Seibi Lee, and Rachna Nivas, the company engages some of today’s top dancers and musicians, as well as collaborative artists from other genres.

The Leela Foundation, also launched in 2016, is the first U.S.-based endowment for North Indian artistic and cultural heritage. Intended to build the financial infrastructure necessary for kathak dance and Hindustani classical music to thrive for future generations, the foundation offers salary support, fellowships, awards, and artist residencies.

Co-Artistic Director Mehta said: “[Our] leaders are dedicated to the future of our art form: to supporting our fellow professional dancers and musicians, to training the next generation of kathak artists, and to [maintaining] artistic excellence [within] our field. Currently, it is virtually impossible for kathak dancers and classical Indian musicians to pursue a full-time career in their chosen field. This lack of infrastructure is directly tied to the legacy of colonialism, particularly the British dismantling of Indian artistic and cultural traditions. We still feel the effects of these historical events more than a century later.”

In 2020, The Leela Foundation granted its first Artist Awards, providing direct support to some of today’s leading musicians, including sitarist and composer Jayanta Banerjee and sarodist Ben Kunin, a senior disciple of Ali Akbar Khan. In 2021, the fund supported three kathak dance artists, among them Madhuri Devi Singh, and in 2022, it supported bansuri artist Jay Gandhi.

Audiences will have a chance to see Leela Dance Collective on Nov. 10, when the company performs with Salastina at The Edye at Santa Monica’s BroadStage as part of the California Festival.