Tag Archives: Kathak

Agni Whips You Into the Environmental Crisis Overtaking Bay Area Landscapes

The world premiere of Bay Area Based Chitresh Das Institute’s (CDI) short Kathak film, “Agni” is on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, at 7:30 pm PDT. The video premiere will be followed by a Q&A panel discussion moderated by India Currents.

The short film is directed and voiced by Filmmaker – Alka Raghuram, choreographed by CDI’s Artistic Director – Charlotte Moraga, composed by musician – Alam Khan, and shot by cinematographer – Anjali Sundaram.

To purchase tickets for the event, head on over to ODC Dance website:

Tickets are $10 before the day of the event

https://t.co/Yw2IfPqjYH?amp=1

Be sure not to miss the event this Thursday!

Here are some sneak peeks about the film when we spoke to the director and producer, Alka Raghuram. 

What was the inspiration to make this film?

Before getting into that, I want to give some context of my association with Chitresh Das Institute. I had worked with Pandit Chitresh Das for his last performance for a live Kathak Flamenco production named “Yatra,” where I was doing the audiovisual element part of it. Initially, Charlotte wanted to create a live show called “Mantram” based on Panchabhoota, five basic elements of cosmic creation. Due to pandemics, live performances are not happening.

We tried to bring out a collaborative effort for “Agni,” the element that brings out the fire’s force or ferocity. Fire is a destructive force but also creates fertile ground for rejuvenation. This film was very much a response to the wildfire burning in California and the social and political wildfires of social injustice in the spring and summer of 2020. Earth’s perspective on fire and what our role is to play in it. It is a collaborative effort to tell the story through different mediums. Charlotte tells the story through dance, and me through film, poem, paintings, and Alam through music. It is the plant’s seed, i.e., the actual live show coming up in the near future. We are going to do a series of short films like this in each of the elements. 

How is watching this film different from a live dance show (watching from the front)?

Projecting a painting is usually static. Watching a show as an audience is a different experience altogether but watching a movie is dynamic. I filmed the dancers from various angles so that they are dancing in other ways. That helps viewers to witness as an insider. Even the side wings of the auditorium stage have the same three-dimensional visual effects. We took a creative decision to make this film distinct that way from watching a show from the front. 

Can you tell us about the poem used in the film?

I wrote the poem to highlight the environmental aspect of the story. The artistic process is iterative by nature. Your vision evolves and gets refined as the work progresses. The first cut of the film was eye-catching and beautiful but we were missing the allusion to the wildfires of the last couple of years. Which led us to experiment with text that would complement the visuals and bring out that dimension without sensationalizing it in any way. We wanted the whole piece to be cut from the same cloth

The poem in the film is complimenting what is already there rather than underlying it. The poem is also another culpable way here to ask whose fault it is. Dance and visuals say whose fault is this, and the verse is also saying that through words. It is giving a hint to the audience about what is going to come. I recited it as well. 

Music is one of the critical elements of this production. We noticed no particular raaga or taala associated with it, like traditional Indian Classical performances. Can you give some background about the creation of this unique music?

Alam Khan created the music piece, and Charlotte made the bols and rhythmic composition. The taal is a complex five and half-beat taal. Charlotte Moraga notes that it’s like fire, it is quick, exciting, and unpredictable! Alam adds that the music is not based on any particular raga. The music is a continuation of Alam’s contemporary approach in blending Indian classical instruments with other instrument types. He has been doing this for many years now and feels his style in this vein continues to grow. We wanted to do something musically out of the box for Kathak and push the limits of what we are accustomed to. 

Can you tell us about the artwork and paintings used in the film? it is an integral part of this film. Is it digital? Can you tell us a little more background of it?

Those are hand-painted, and I used ink. I am a painter too, and the idea was to use those paintings projected in the auditorium during the performance. In the film, the backdrop is not so much focused. I painted blue woods and redwoods and took pictures of tree barks and fire. I needed to rearrange, superimpose, and layered all of these during editing in such a three-dimensional way, telling a dynamic cinematic story altogether. Paintings are also done in a way to interpret it globally, not so region-specific. I used a blue color tone in paintings overall. Blue represents the hottest and the most intense part of the fire’s flames. Blue is also the calm part of it before the fire starts. 

What is the concluding message of this production from the environmental aspect? Can you tell our audience about it a little more? 

The film communicates from the perspective of the Earth and speaks about who is culpable for it. It asks the question and includes everyone. Towards the end, the dancers stare at viewers and say whose fault it is. Then there is smoke, and the Earth’s mouth is filled with ash. Earth speaks with grief. Then there is ash in the landscape, and birds are disappearing. It is like Earth’s lament through the poem, dancer’s expressions, and visuals – Why is this happening? Who is to blame? Our deeds are recorded in the time ledger how we acted so far caused us to come to this point. Agni is raging and destroying. It brought us to think brink for our deeds. This film visually takes us on the journey from sparks to the raging fire. 


Piyali Biswas De is an accomplished Bharatnatyam and Non-classical dance exponent, guru, and well-known choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional in Seattle and spends time with two beautiful daughters who seem eager to follow in her footsteps. 


 

Ram Rajya scene

Ram-Rajya in America? Yes, You Heard it Right!

In October, I performed Kathak in celebrations to commemorate Dussehra, the Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of Ram over Ravan, Durga over Mahishasur, Good over Evil. As did all other aspects of our lives this year, these performances were moved online. Though physically distanced in my garage-turned-studio, I was dancing for a much larger worldwide virtual audience and sought themes of universal appeal.

Mulling over the roller-coaster of emotions I have been experiencing due to the events of 2020 – the pandemic, economic uncertainty, the Black Lives Matter movement, the massive wildfires, US presidential elections, and the related dissent and discord – this one dance item resonated with me. 

Author and Kathak Dancer, Anupama Srivastava performing Ram Rajya
Author and Kathak Dancer, Anupama Srivastava performing Ram Rajya

An excerpt from a 1984 Kathak dance-drama “Kab Aoge Ram” by legendary Kathak maestro Padmashri and Sangeet-Natak-Akademi awardee Guru Shovana Narayan, this item titled “Ram-Rajya” is an enumeration of King Ram’s kingdom, as described in the Uttar-Kaand of Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidas. Ms. Narayan’s trailblazing work hailed “Ramatva ” or the “essence of Ram” as the guiding principle of an ideal society. This critically acclaimed production revolutionized the typical Ram-centric story-telling format of that time and shifted the focus to several other characters in Ramayana who yearned for Ram.

The experience of participating in this production back then left an indelible mark on my young mind, enhanced my ability to process happenings around me, and continues to reinforce that our ancient texts provide context, relevance, and guidance in the present day and age. 

According to Tulsidas, Ram-Rajya was a utopian society, where the righteous King Ram set a very high bar of conduct. Inspired by their king, everyone in the kingdom possessed a unique set of attributes. People had no physical or mental suffering, and nobody died young. They treated each other with love and fulfilled their duties as defined in the Vedas. They followed a path of righteousness, charity, generosity, thankfulness, respect, and faith. Men and women were educated, wise, and stayed away from deceit and hatred. There was no crime and no punishment. There was domestic bliss – men vowed to be monogamous, and women were caring and committed. There were abundant trees, lush forests teeming with wildlife, fertile farmlands, and plentiful milk, honey, fruits, and grains. Birds and pets roamed freely. The sun, moon, and clouds provided a balanced climate and the air was pure and scented. Sweet water-filled rivers, lakes, and wells, and oceans were in check. Riverbanks were clean, and pious people sang praises of Sri Ram everywhere. People had an abundance of all essential material possessions. Precious metals, gems, and crystals adorned city structures and homes. Abundance and prosperity reigned supreme!

Fast forward to 2020 in the United States of America, post the presidential elections. For a country reeling, suffering, divided, frustrated with an apparently failed social-political-economic system, the post-election period is a time of introspection and recovery. But what actions should we take as individuals and as a society on this road to recovery? This is where Ram-Rajya comes in.

The concept of Ram-Rajya put forth in Ramcharitmanas has long been hailed as a gold standard for good governance as well as personal conduct leading to universal prosperity and well-being. A closer look at this description, specifically the order in which the features of Ram-Rajya have been described, reveals that the attainment of a utopian society is a three-step process. First, righteous individual conduct and the conducive way people treat each other lay the foundation of a strong and healthy society. Second, this carefully controlled human behavior leads to a harmonious environment, a balanced climate, and a perfect ecological balance between humans, flora, fauna, land, water, and air. Material prosperity, abundance, fulfillment, happiness, and peace follow eventually as the third and final step.

Whether in America or elsewhere in the world, we are truly at a crossroads in history. With unprecedented pain and suffering on so many fronts, this is a time of reflection and introspection on how we have evolved as a society and as individuals, and where we will go from here. Yes, this does seem to be the “Kalyug” all our sacred texts warned about. And it is these same texts that we can turn to for seeking the guidance to rejuvenate, recreate and rebuild individually, as a society, and as an entire human race.


Anupama Srivastava is a Kathak dancer, Founder and Artistic Director of InSyncKathak Dance School based in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA. After an 18-year career as a hardware engineer in Silicon Valley, she presently splits her time between dance, yoga, family, and writing.’

Featured image found here.

Why I Dance: Over 300 Classical Dancers Speak

Why I Dance – A monthly column, in collaboration with IndianRaga, in which we uncover the variety of Indian Classical Dance forms and their lineage. 

“Why do you dance?” asked Anuradha Nehru, Founder and Artistic Director of Maryland based Kuchipudi company Kalanidhi Dance, “It was such a profound question that it made me introspect and look deeper into my source of inspiration for dance. Upon further reflection and discussion with my fellow dancers in Kalanidhi, we realized there were four motivations that drove us – connecting to our heritage; the sense of liberation that dance affords; the ability to tell stories; and the strong bonds of friendship and community that dance builds.”  This simple yet complex question prompted the creation of her 2016 production Why I Dance.

Six months ago, the world underwent an unforeseen change.  Everything came to a halt, and the world of dance had to overcome an obstacle. Dance classes, workshops, performances, and productions were all canceled. No one knew when they would be able to return to the stage. Hoping to re-energize her dance community, Kalanidhi dancer Sahiti Rachakonda suggested that they start an online campaign called Why I Dance. Kalanidhi Dance partnered with IndianRaga to take the campaign global. The campaign launched August 22nd, on the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, and the #whyidance gained traction.

Artists from all eight of the Sangeet Natak Akademi recognized Indian Classical Art forms participated in the campaign, along with artists from many of India’s folk and contemporary styles. The campaign featured 36 world-renowned maestros and teachers including Prateesha Suresh, Birju Maharaj, Leela Samson, Alarmel Valli, Sujatha Mohapatra, Bijayini Satpathy, Sonal Mansingh, and Kumudini Lakhia. Anuradha Nehru says, “We were pleasantly surprised by the amazing response from India’s most famous and legendary dancers. They responded enthusiastically to our request and obliged readily with their thoughts and words of wisdom and generously shared video excerpts of their dance.

Their participation inspired many dancers from over 65 countries to join this movement, turning the initial wave of dancers into a tsunami,” IndianRaga Founder and CEO Sriram Emani adds “I was amazed by the willingness of some of Indian dance’s senior-most maestros to learn how to shoot a video from home, in the midst of a pandemic, to help inspire dancers globally.” 

 

Pragnya Thamire, a Kalanidhi Dancer said, “It was absolutely phenomenal to have edited the ‘Why I Dance’ videos of some of the legends in Indian classical dance… I learned so much through their words!”  

The response to the campaign was indeed unprecedented.  Dancers from around the world were eager to post their own videos; from the youngest dancers having only been learning for a few years, to the seasoned professionals, everyone wanted a chance to share their story, why they dance.

 IndianRaga team member Isha Kulkarni felt, “The campaign was one of the most exciting and challenging things I have ever worked on and nothing less than a privilege. We got to talk to these legendary artists, hear their thoughts, their experiences and that was definitely one of the things that inspired me to keep pushing harder in spite of the limitations in the current scenario.

Although the campaign was started as a way for dancers around the world to reflect inwards in light of the global lockdown, it is far from the end. Sriram says, “We definitely intend to continue – There is no planned conclusion to this campaign. Dancers can continue to post as per the guidelines and tag us, and we will share as we go along. Many people who used to dance before and left it for multiple reasons are now picking up dance again and participating in the campaign, and we welcome everyone to join in!”

Tune in next month to learn more about the Indian Classical Artform, Sattriya, featuring Why I Dance participant and exponent Prateesha Suresh!


Tarini Kumar is an IndianRaga Bharatanatyam Fellow and Why I Dance team member. She is a disciple of Smt. Divyaa Unni, and currently studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Will My Culture Survive the Pandemic?

Trying to create a space in the United States, Indian Americans rely heavily on the Arts to remain connected to their roots. Instead of soccer practice and baseball lessons, the minivan drives kids to Kathak (Indian Classical Dance) class or Tabla (Indian percussion/drums) lessons. What our parents understood, that took me till my adult years to grasp, was that culture was identity. And we would only be comfortable in our skin, in alien territory, if we could see the beauty of who we inherently were. 

As a young brown girl, I found a sense of camaraderie and belonging with my peers through the Classical Arts. Some learned Bharatanatyam dance and some took Kathak. Some learned to play the Tabla and some, the Sitar. Some took Carnatic Classical Music and some took Hindustani Classical Music. But all of these Arts drove one point home – no matter the geographic location or style of the Art, we were deeply connected to our culture. At times when I was ostracized for that same thing – being too Indian – I took solace in what I knew to be true. I am who I am and there was no reason to resent something so pure- so unifying. I continue to cherish it. 

A lifelong Kathak dancer and student, I saw the strain the Arts went through when my classes at the Chitresh Das Institute went online due to the shelter in place orders. Many students dropped off, our teachers struggled to teach online, and our performances were canceled. I felt myself become uninspired. 

But Art cannot be stopped. Art keeps pushing along like the little engine that could, to give meaning to that which is inexplicable. One Bharatanatyam teacher found purpose in embracing the messiness of online teaching and musicians like Sunny Jain began putting their music on Youtube. IndianRaga and Kalanidhi Dance collaborated during the pandemic to rejuvenate classical arts through their Why I Dance campaign. However, an artist’s career comes to a halt when spaces to perform are limited and they are faced with the reality of a declining income.

The artistic community, many working as freelancers and independent contractors, requires life support. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on September 11, 2020, LA Based Actor, Kristina Wong told us of the moment that her livelihood came into question. Her one-woman satire, Kristina Wong for Public Office, that she had spent three years researching and running a real election in preparation for, was running on the college/university circuit when the pandemic hit. Colleges and university campuses made the decision to go fully online, as to mitigate the pandemic, and Wong was stuck scrambling to find alternatives to cancelation. 

I’m witnessing a lot of artists just leave Los Angeles. Some are working for the census. Some are just scrambling,
” she noted, emphasizing that her ability to adapt to the online format was a unique luxury and that she still wouldn’t be able to recoup the losses of canceled performances. 

Kristin Sakoda, Actor and Executive Director of the LA Arts Commission witnessed the impact of COVID on the Arts. It was one of the first sectors to close and will be one of the last to reopen. 2.7 million jobs have been lost resulting in a $150 billion impact on the creative industry. As a grant distributor, Sakoda mentioned $20 million in losses for the nonprofits sustaining local arts.

Appreciation of the arts is crucial in inconsistent, unclear times. Art gives context, an escape, a safe space to feel uncertain, and to empathize with others.

Minority arts are quickly disappearing. Jose Luis Valenzuela, a UCLA and community college theater professor, met with artistic directors who cater to communities of color and were worried about the survival of their companies. They are the few sources for access to the arts for minority populations. Representation matters and when that diminishes, so do the voices. Graphic designer and Muralist, Roberto Pozos of Imperial Valley resonates with this message. Living in a space that has been a hotspot for COVID related death, Pozos wants to commemorate the suffering and lift the spirits of those around him. None of this can happen without funding. 

We must push for federal grant funding! Email, call, snail mail your Congresspeople. The last time federal tax dollars were put towards the arts was during the Great Depression and the time has come again to make our mark on democracy and preserve culture. 

I think about what I would do without Kathak. Kathak is not just a form of Indian Classical Dance. Kathak is the best parts of me. Kathak accepts me and grounds me to the reality I am in. Kathak reminds me to forgive myself and others. Kathak is a guiding force, teaching morality and mythology. Kathak is music. Kathak is discipline and learned knowledge. Kathak is Indian history. Kathak is me. 


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

This post has been updated.

Ruthless Politics, Female Power and Kathak

The Forgotten Empress from Farah Yasmeen Shaikh—formerly of Chitresh Das Dance Company and now founder of Noorani Dance—will come to two Bay Area stages; San Jose at the end of February and Z Space at the beginning of March. These performances are not only timely and topical because of the subject matter, but arrive just as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, which this year occurs on Sunday March 8.


“The themes are timeless,” says Shaikh, “love, ego, struggle for power, betrayal by the ones you hold closest, loss of loved ones, and a longing desire for something different other than what fate has dictated to you as one’s own life.”

Empress Noor Jahan was a woman who while possessing both a deep compassion and sensitivity toward others, paired these attributes with an  intelligent and strategic mind. The possessor of what Shaikh describes as a “a rare and intoxicating beauty,” Noor Jahan was willing to use those attributes in order to achieve her own ends, ends that included marriage and motherhood as a means to pursuing power and authority at the state level.

This solo Kathak performance, a discipline that traces its development to the 16th century, and is considered one of eight forms of Indian classical dance will feature Shaikh portraying all the characters, both male and female. Kathak comes from the Sanskrit word “katha” which means “story,” and the term Kathak is taken to mean “that which tells a story.”

“Kathak offers both the dancer and the audience an opportunity to go on an visually rhythmic journey of emotions,” says Shaikh. “It’s a form that asks the performer to not only to dance highly technical compositions and combinations, but also act out emotionally charged scenes as well.”

The Forgotten Empress is woven together from an original script written by acclaimed Playwright and Director, Matthew Spangler (who also adapted Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner for theater). The live music for the evening is directed and will be performed by rising tabla artist, Salar Nader, who will be joined on stage by: Ben Kunin on sarod; Raaginder Singh Momi on violin; Deepti Warrier on vocals; Sukanya Chakrabarti (San Jose) and Radhika Rao (San Francisco) as the actor/narrator.

The San Francisco performances, which occur in the days just prior to International Women’s Day, will feature a special guest, historian and author Ruby Lal, who wrote a definitive biography on the subject Empress: Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan, who will give a pre-show talk as well as a reading, with book sales and signing to follow.

What: The Forgotten Empress, Co-Presented by Communication Studies at SJSU
When: Feb 28 & Saturday, Feb 29 at 7:30pm
Where: Hammer Theatre Center at San Jose University
Tickets: Tickets: $35 / $45 / $60 at www.nooranidance.com 

What: The Forgotten Empress, Co-Presented by Z Space & Litquake
When: Thursday, March 5 and Friday March 6 at 7:30 pm
Where: Z Space, 450 Florida Street San Francisco 94114
Tickets: Tickets: $35 / $45 / $60 at www.nooranidance.com 

“I Don’t Remember a Time When I Was Not Dancing”: Aditi Mangaldas

She is a leading dancer and choreographer in the classical Indian dance form of Kathak. Regarded as one of the leading dancers in both the traditional and contemporary idiom, Aditi Mangaldas has performed traditional and contemporary Kathak across the world. She is also the artistic director and principal dancer of the Delhi-based dance company, The Drishtikon Dance Foundation. Neha Kirpal spoke to Aditi Mangaldas about how dance became such a big part of her life, the contemporary vocabulary/movement language she has devised as well as her upcoming activities, performances and tours.  

Unlike most classical dancers, you do not belong to a family of dancers. How did you decide on a career in Kathak?

This is a story that my parents remind me of—I honestly don’t have any memory of it. My family has been industrialists on one side, and academicians on the other. My paternal grandmother used to live with us in Ahmedabad. It’s a very large family, so every evening the entire Mangaldas family would come to our home to meet my grandmother. I have been told that there was this little table on which I would promptly jump up and somehow try to attract their attention and tell little stories and do other things, mostly using movement. 

WITHIN : Contemporary dance performance by Aditi Mangaldas & troup at Jamshedji Bhabha Theatre,NCPA on 23/03/2014.Photos By : NARENDRA DANGIYA

 

My parents were both very liberal. They encouraged both my brother and Ito explore our maximum. Within their possibilities, they tried to expose us to different cultures, music, dance, art and sculpture. Further, there was a community science centre that I went to as a young child where I became really interested in mathematics, and went on to graduate in the subject later. Gradually, all the classes fell off, and dance seemed to be my calling. 

I don’t remember any particular moment when I decided to become a professional. I don’t remember a time when I was not dancing. My earliest memories are of me in class with my gurus. They did put me in a Bharatnatyam class to start with because Mrinalini Sarabhai was a family friend, but my best friend was in a Kathak class. When I went there, I fell in love and it was magic to see the class of my guru Shrimati Kumudini Lakhia. So, I implored my parents to move me and they did. Thereon, started my lifelong immersion, passion and dedication with Kathak. That’s how the first steps were taken in Kathak. 

Also, I went to a very liberal school called Shreyas that encouraged music and dance along with mathematics, languages and the rest. Being in such an environment, with my parents and my guru, where art can prosper, helped. Later on, I left Ahmedabad and came to Delhi and joined my second guru, Pandit Birju Maharaj. I was with him for many years, and then decided that I need to find my own language. For me, life has been the greatest guru, because you find that strength within you to relearn everything and forge your own path. So, dance just became a part of my existence.  

Tell us a little about your extensive training under the leading gurus of Kathak, Shrimati Kumudini Lakhia and Pandit Birju Maharaj.

I was really lucky to have these two stalwarts as my gurus. If I see it in a broader sense as to what my learning and education has been from them: from Kumudini ji, I learnt the relationship of this tiny body in terms of the vast space around us—a horizontal understanding, a connection with not only the space, but with lights, music and text. Similarly, with Pandit Birju Maharaj, I learnt to see this body itself as the centre of the universe. What is the central part of the body that reaches out to the edges? I also learnt how this body is self-sufficient on its own and the intricacies of movement within the body. 

Kumudini ji also always told us never to wear blinkers; to observe and be open to whatever is happening around us. That really helped me to constantly question. My family also always encouraged questioning, discussions, debates and arguments—not to take anything written in stone. So what if something is written 2,000 or 5,000 years ago? You are free to question it and find your own relevance with it. Maharaj ji, on the other hand, expected us to go deeper and deeper into the style. So, you shed all the externals and constantly did sadhana or dedicated practice—got immersed in the dance. Eventually, I always consider my family and life my two ultimate gurus. The experience of learning from life is something quite different. 

Tell us about the contemporary vocabulary/movement language that you have devised. 

There are two streams under which my work can be categorized—classical Kathak and contemporary dance based on Kathak. There is one stream of thought according to which what we call khula naach is one in which one comes and recites the bols and communicates with the audience, and it’s not a structured performance. I prefer to structure my performances in a way that a certain concept is woven through it, and the pieces that I dance to, are like little gems that are strung on the piece. I do a lot of solos and also choreograph many group works. All of this is about 80 percent of my work. 

Dance Umbrella 2016, Inter_rupted, Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Barbican

 

 

At the same time, I found that there are many things that I want to communicate. As Kathakars, we are storytellers, and sometimes the stories we want to communicate, cannot be best communicated through the medium of classical Kathak. For example, when I wanted to communicate claustrophobia, I found it impossible to do so within the broader parameters of classical Kathak. So, I had to find a movement vocabulary that allows me to communicate it. As an artist, I have a desire to communicate things, and I should not stop myself from doing so. So, I asked myself how to go about it. How do I develop a vocabulary that is informed by our history and geography, but not bogged down by it? How does this new exploration start? I don’t believe in fusion—it’s like cutting a branch of an apple tree and grafting it on a mango tree. 

My attempt, however, is to sow the seed of Kathak and water it with contemporary sensibilities, movement, thought, music and inspirations from life. So, the fruits are firmly entrenched in Kathak, and yet the tree that grows out is very different from my Kathak tree. This contemporary dance based on Kathak tree is totally rooted in Kathak. No one can do it who is not a Kathak dancer. Classical Kathak has a kind of external boundary, though one that is constantly expanding. Whereas in this case, it’s like absorption—not fusion, or deconstructing the form. 

You will turn 60 next year. What are some of your upcoming performances, tours, and other activities of the Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company – The Drishtikon Dance Foundation that you head.

There are many exciting things coming up in the future. We have a whole set of performances happening in India, many of which are my solos. We just performed as a group at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai for their 50th anniversary and I’m also dancing a classical solo for them. I’m also performing in Chennai for a festival. We are performing all over India this year. We are also going to Russia and Turkey. We have also just returned from an extensive tour of Germany with 11 performances of our work which is within classical and contemporary dance based on Kathak. We are also scheduled to be going to the Middle East. In April 2020, I will be performing Immersed at the “Dancing the Gods Festival” in New York. 

Since last year, under Dance Drishtikon, we have also started sponsoring young dancers and giving them an opportunity to completely make their own work—from the concept to the choreography, etc. That happened in May this year, and now we are going to present another young dancer and four young choreographers. Among all these, the most exciting is the work I’ve started on three new productions, one of which is a contemporary solo. All our collaborators are from England. It’s about why society is scared of female fantasy. Some of the top names in light design, dramaturgy, costume design and set design are my collaborators. We will premiere it in November 2020. The other group work—both classical and contemporary—is also going to be premiered sometime in 2020 or early 2021. I’m also talking to Shubha Mudgal for the music composition, and working on another fully classical solo. 

Another series we have started is the baithak, to give young dancers and musicians an opportunity to perform in an intimate atmosphere. Since last year, we have had eight baithaks—five in our own home studio and three at other  venues, like the Oddbird Theatre or the Serendipity Foundation. My only involvement is that I curate the piece. Another series that I have started are the workshops in which I teach myself. We are also planning to start a series called Saturdays with Aditi, which will be a very intensive training in the classical form of Kathak for three hours over many Saturdays. 

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com

 

Dancing to the Tunes of Her Heart

Walk in to Ashwini Patwardhan’s dance class or watch her perform on stage and you will feel inspired to see her passion. Meet the vibrant and enthusiastic Kathak dance teacher, Ashwini Patwardhan. She has been teaching Kathak for over 18 years in the United States. Dedicated to training students of all ages, Ashwini has created a space where they can nurture their talent and explore the world of artistic expression. Ashwini talks about her journey and deep connect with Kathak.

Tell us about the philosophy behind dance as a tool for expression.  

AP: Dance is communication through music, body gestures, expressions leading to a graceful storytelling. A dancer has to make sure that she portrays everything through her body and take the audience along with her into a different world.

Learning Kathak requires a lot of hard work, perseverance and discipline. Tell us about your journey. How did you get started?

AP: My family has an artistic background and therefore I had the privilege of watching performances of some great artists in India. My formal training in dance started when I was in 7th grade. My first Guru, Smt. Amala Shekhar, used to teach in one of the most renowned dance schools of Pune. I was focused and my parents made sure that my classes were given top priority. I love being on the stage.

When I moved to America, I continued to take classes when I went to India. Dance was always with me. I did not want to let go of all the years of practice. Since I did not have a teacher, I had to make sure even though no one was watching me I kept pursuing it with practice. Right now, I take classes on Skype with my Guru, Smt. Maneesha Sathe.

What is it that moves you most as a teacher?

AP: The interest and passion that my students show in learning Kathak, pushes me to work harder as their teacher. Students here do not have the same references that I had as a child, yet they have the hunger to learn. I am always thinking of ways in which I can give them something new, something more, something that will mold them as better dancers.

What is the most challenging thing about being a dance teacher?

AP: Questions that have no definite answers like, “How many years will it take for my child to become a dancer?” annoy me the most. Art is not a commodity that can be bought, gauged or measured in terms of money or time spent.

What is your message for other Kathak dancers?

AP: I feel all dancers should stay true to the art form. I find a lot of people taking shortcuts to be popular, make more money or for other reasons. Look out for good platforms to showcase talent and art. Don’t choose platforms which will make the form lose its dignity. Classical dancers are not entertainers, we are artists. Try to propagate and create a deeper understanding of this traditional dance form.

When can we see your next performance?

AP: I will be performing on 25th May in the San Francisco International Arts Festival at Cowell theatre.

To learn more about Ashwini and her dance classes, please visit http://www.ashwinigogate.com

Surabhi Kaushik is an Indian writer, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Her works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and parenting essays have been published in various websites such as yourstoryclub, halfbakedbeans, herviewfromhome and India Currents. She is closely associated with “Write Like You Mean It,” a writer’s group in the Main library, Charlotte. She also leads a monthly Fiction Writing workshop and conducts writing workshops at various libraries across Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Continuum: Celebrating Tradition with Integrity

San Francisco will be the hub of an exciting festival of Hindustani Classical music and Kathak dance over the coming weekend. Spearheaded by the Leela Dance Collective, in partnership with Chhandam School of Kathak, the two day festival titled ‘Continuum’ promises a fresh and contemporary immersion into the ancient art forms. The venue for the festival is Z-Space, in the heart of the Mission District of San Francisco.

Rachna Nivas – a Founding member of the Leela Dance Collective, Dean of the Chhandam School of Kathak and Artistic Director of the Chhandam Youth Dance Company is a veritable bundle of energy. And that fact came through clearly in the opening minutes of our conversation. “Its a case of trying to stay in constant balance while splitting my mind and energy between being a dancer, a teacher, an organizer and fundraiser! But I wouldn’t have it any other way!”, she says.

Rachna received her training in Kathak with the celebrated Guru – the late Pandit Chitresh Das (Chhandam school of Kathak). In her 17 years with Chhandam as his student, principal company dancer and teacher, she has developed a keen understanding about her own abilities which takes her beyond the boundaries of dancing. “Being an artist is not just about creating the art. If you want to be empowered to create change and make a difference, you have to move into other areas. The only constant is ‘learning’ – which never stops!”, she says with obvious passion.

Leela Dance Collective:

With the passing of Chitresh Das – a legend in the field of Kathak, a handful of his senior disciples, Rachna Nivas, Rina Mehta and Seibi Lee, along with leading Kathak dancers Sarah Morelli & Shefali Jain,  formed the Leela Dance Collective (LDC) in 2016. It is the first Indian-American dance company with a wide global representation of its kind. “The philosophy behind our vision for LDC was to create collectively and make an impact, while supporting individuality as well”, says Rachna. The model works differently than a Western dance company. An artist-owned and artist-led organization, the Collective comprises of 15 to 20 dancers currently, and has garnered the interest of many dancers who are keen on joining them.  

The Collective has built on Pandit Chitresh Das’s personal vision & ideals. While Panditji was known for his improvisational skills, he stressed the importance of having a firm base in traditions. “Creating awareness of these traditional art forms is what Guruji’s dream was with Chhandam. Indian-Americans have had a wonderful opportunity to study & connect their traditions in a special way. As I grew as a dancer,  it became very clear to me of my own sense of responsibility, to do my bit in raising awareness & pride in others like me – about their classical tradition which gets very diluted by pop culture very often”, she states.

LDC has showcased scintillating productions like SPEAK – a collaboration of leading female artists in kathak and tap dancing; and Son of the Wind – a traditional dance ballad based on India’s epic, the Ramayana. Touring both locally in the United States and internationally, the Collective has performed in many prestigious venues like, The Broad Stage, the Green Music Center and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The collective’s productions and performances have been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the Zellerbach Family Fund, the Esper Petersen Foundation and New Music USA.

Continuum – the Festival:

The Collective is conscientious about bringing a fresh, contemporary voice to the dance form, while upholding the integrity of the tradition. “We have been showcasing group productions over the last few years, and felt the need to re-discover the Kathak Solo – which is the heart and soul of any Indian classical dance form.” Continuum brings the traditional Solo to center stage. Speaking on behalf of her fellow founders and members of the Collective, Rachna reiterated their objective to uphold the tradition and training imparted by their beloved Guruji – Pandit Chitresh Das. “All the performers in this festivals are Guruji’s disciples. We are very mindful of the fact that the torch has been passed into our collective hands. We now carry the responsibility of the lineage! This is a ‘continuation’ of his legacy – hence the name Continuum”. 

Leela Dance Collective is partnering with the Chhandam School of Kathak to spotlight the next generation of Kathak dancers in a two day festival on April 20th & 21st, 2019.

The shows open with a music solo for the first half, followed by a dance solo with accompanying musicians from India.

The festival venue is Z-Space, in the very heart of the Mission District of San Francisco. 

Showcasing talented musicians and dancers, the event promises an action-packed, visually rich, cultural immersion to enthrall any art lover! 

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Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

 

 

 

Nazaakat Aur Taaqat ~ A Delicate Power

Stories are powerful entities. They hold entire universes within them. The human experience across the world, depends upon the telling and sharing of stories to shape its cultural identity. Narratives come in forms that are as varied as the plots and characters that inhabit them. Music and dance have played an important part in storytelling from times immemorial.

Speaking with Bay area based Kathak dancer and teacher, Farah Yasmeen Shaikh opened up another dimension into the world of storytelling. Reading her biography on her website, Noorani Dance, only whet my appetite to delve deeper. Farah’s life is a story of many beginnings.

Like most immigrant narratives, it begins with a multi-generational series of journeys. Starting in Partition-era India, it winds its way through Pakistan, before reaching the shores of the American dream. And there it finds yet another beginning in the dreams of a young girl who falls in love with the dance form of Kathak. Honing her skills over a period of nearly two decades under the tutelage of her Guru, the late Pandit Chitresh Das (Chhandam School of Kathak), the story evolves to see her spread her wings and invent new plot lines.

Farah choreographed the full length production of “The Twentieth Wife” in 2015 based on Indu Sundaresan’s award winning novel. This was followed by “The Forgotten Empress”, scripted by well known playwright and director Matthew Spangler. Her latest work “The Partition Project”, was co-produced in collaboration with EnActe Arts to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan. In 2016, Farah founded “Noorani Dance”, an organization which provides in-depth Kathak training to students. Apart from performing internationally and actively teaching, she writes, blogs, and uses her voice to highlight issues that are close to her heart. Her most important role is that of a mother to her 8 year old daughter. These achievements over the years have only served to stoke the fires of her passion for dance and journey further both spiritually and creatively.

The recipient of awards and grants from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, San Francisco Foundation, and SVCreates to name a few, Farah was the guest choreographer for the World Dance Program at Alvin Ailey Extension in New York City, and the Mona Khan Dance Company, besides being involved in theatrical and feature film choreography as well. 

As she prepares to launch a new dance production “Nazaakat aur Taaqat – A Delicate Power”, I spoke with her about the impact of Kathak on the many areas of her life.

P.K:  Let us start by talking about your upcoming production. An interesting choice for a title! The word Nazaakat (delicate/delicacy) is not often seen associated with the word – Taaqat (strength).  

F.Y.S:  The word ‘Kathak’ is derived from the word ‘Katha’ which means ‘story’. Performers were originally called ‘kathakars.’ In this dance form,  the four elements of ‘Tayaari’ (technical readiness), ‘Laykaari’ (rhythmic virtuosity), ‘Khoobsurti’ (beauty) and ‘Nazaakat’ (delicacy/refinement) , are equally important. One cannot and does not take precedence over the other. Here we see complementary yet contrasting elements making up the whole. Kathak requires years of discipline. A dancer certainly has to develop strength (Taaqat), but it is a fragile and delicate skill to maintain that discipline – ‘Sadhana’. So in a sense, delicacy itself is such a powerful thing!  Delicacy is also about sensitivity and consciousness. It also speaks to femininity. The stereotypes explored and examined in this production will show that often delicacy shrouds an innate strength and power. The ability to be mothers, possessing a deep sense of nurturing – that in and of itself is a strength!

P.K:   What is the main story central to this production? Have you taken a new approach to your craft in terms of choreography?

F.Y.S:   The central story is that of Heer and Ranjha – the equivalent of Romeo & Juliet. The opening piece is based upon a light classical film song which has been rearranged musically to fit into the structure of a classical piece. Heer and Ranjha’s story can be placed in so many contexts. I was moved by the idea that two people were forced to separate on the basis of caste, social class and creed.  Religion and betrayal play a big part in their story. I wanted to explore how we use religion to our advantage… and how it works against us, even in this day and age.

This production has retained the traditional Kathak style as far as structure. But I am exploring many things that I have tried during my workshops in Pakistan. This is the first time I will be sharing that on stage.

P.K:   Reading your blog is a revelation about you – the person, the dancer, the woman. What has dance taught you about cultural and religious identity?

F.Y.S:   I believe strongly that my art form, my creativity, is essentially a study in human emotions. For most people culture and religion are two sides of the same coin. But for some, one might supersede the other. There was an instance when I was a student of Pandit Chitresh Das where I was approached by a fellow student, a Muslim like me, who wanted to know how I could relate to or accept some of the aspects of Kathak that might be perceived as ‘Hindu.’ I have always held strongly to the idea that creative expression and art is a language that goes beyond labels. It certainly does not make me less of a person, or less of an artiste – to be who I am, creating the work that I am doing.
During my time in Pakistan I was initially hyper-aware about not performing pieces that could cause trouble. Eventually I learnt that the people who attended the performances were there out of sheer interest regardless of what I chose to showcase. My work was warmly received, and I never felt alienated. My experiences there made me realize that these relationships should be fluid. There is no need to categorize and box myself in any way.

P.K:   You have based your work on several female ‘Nayikas’ or protagonists, with productions like “The Twentieth Wife”, and “Forgotten Empress”. What draws you to characters from that period in history, other than the obvious reason of empathizing with them as women?

F.Y.S:   Stories need to go beyond just the storyline or characterizations drawn from an epic or a book. Exploring the lives of these woman, taking them out of the zenana, from behind the jaali, allows us to get up close and personal with them. Noor Jehan was labelled as having been a shrewd woman because she managed to hold on to her power from behind the scenes. Why is that so wrong?! I wanted to explore all aspects of her attributes and celebrate them. For me personally, this exploration took on a new dimension in my understanding of Kathak.

As for the time period in history, there was an amazing spirit of tolerance, an acceptance of diversity in all forms – in arts and culture – during the Mughal era; especially during Emperor Akbar’s time. It must have been an incredible time to have been an artist! That is also why these women were able to exert such an impact on the world around them.

P.K:   Speaking of watershed moments in history, you performed as part of the Partition Project in March of 2018. The Partition of India and Pakistan in many ways rewrote your own family history, did it not?

F.Y.S:   Yes, I grew up watching movies from that time period and was always very interested in the topic. My parents’ families lived in Mumbai in 1947 during the Partition. They were both very young at that time and did not move to Pakistan until 1948, following the civil unrest after Gandhiji’s assassination. Although they do not have direct memories, I have heard stories about what it was like during that time. My grandfather left behind a thriving business to make the decision to move his family, only to realize how difficult it was to start over from scratch on the other side. The helplessness and demoralization that he and others in his situation experienced was heartrending. But despite this, many people survived and made something of themselves. Noorani Dance partnered with EnActe Arts to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Partition in March 2018. Titled ‘The Parting’, the production was very close to my heart!

P.K:   Since your first solo performance in 2007, your journey with Kathak has been about personal exploration and self discovery. It is evident from your blog posts that it shares space with social activism as well. Is this a natural progression for you as an artiste?

F.Y.S:   Yes, it is! My Guruji, Pdt. Chitresh Das, planted a seed in me which went beyond my love and passion for the art form in and of itself. It was the idea of creating art within a larger context and message. While I absolutely love Kathak, and it enriches me in so many ways, it also has incredible power as a medium and a vehicle in the realm of storytelling. Visual display, movement, music – all these layers make for a powerful instrument. I find myself naturally gravitating towards issues with social and political merit. It is exciting to be able to find ways to express my opinions through the medium of Kathak, with an inherent message underlying the elements of dance.

P.K:  Can you share with us about your time training with Pdt. Chitresh Das Ji?

F.Y.S:   I have an immense amount of gratitude for the skill and knowledge he imparted in the years I was his student. My training with him began when I was a student in SFSU. It was in many ways an intense and demanding relationship. He was very old school in the way he trained. It was all about tough love and lessons happened both on and off the dance floor. He was an exacting teacher and I definitely benefited from his demands for perfection!

We live in a liberated society in the U.S, but this traditional art form, like many others, requires a complete submission to the Guru. Many people who are committed to traditional art forms face challenges when it comes time to allowing their students to explore on their own. This is quite common. Unfortunately it became challenging to study with him when that time came in our relationship. I had to make a hard decision very much against that ‘Parampara’ (tradition), and struck out on my own. As difficult as it was for me, and I am sure for him as well, I will always honor and cherish my time with him forever!

P.K:  What are the next steps for Noorani Dance?

F.Y.S:   I don’t envision a large institution for Noorani Dance, but want quality over quantity. Forming a nonprofit organization is at the top of the list. And as always, I have several new ideas for projects! Keeping my work in Pakistan ongoing is very important to me. I would like to travel and work there, building bridges between Indian and Pakistani artists, even if that happens here locally in the U.S.  

P.K:  How do you see yourself evolving as a teacher?

F.Y.S:   As an artiste, I see two aspects that are equally important; my performing career and being a teacher and mentor to my students. Teaching is so much more than just imparting the dance form. It is a combination of having clarity, but being fluid and open without becoming rigid about evolving. I don’t call myself a Guru – that label has to be earned!

“Nazaakat aur Taaqat – A Delicate Power” opens on May 4th, 2019, at the Mexican Heritage Theater in San Jose. Featuring an impressive lineup of talented musicians and singers, along with the dancers from Noorani Dance, the production promises an evening of visually rhythmic journey of dance and music to enthrall our senses.

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Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

 

Parampara: In the Footsteps of the Masters

Anuradha Nag, Artistic Director of Tarangini School of Kathak dance, has two causes for celebration this year: her school turns 25 and her Guru, Padma Vibhushan Birju Maharaj, turns 80. She is hosting the event Parampara on June 8th this year with a special treat: Maharaj will perform to Padma Bhushan Zakir Husssain’s percussion. Maharaj’s foremost disciple Saswati Sen will be the other featured artist along with five generations of the Maharaj lineage and Tarangini dancers. This is a story about Sen; India Currents hopes to do follow-on stories about the event.

Saswati Sen was the first, in a long line of doctors and lawyers, in her family to be an artist. She was a couple years into studying for a medical degree in Aligarh, India some 45 years ago, struggling to not faint at the sight of blood when she begged her father yet again to dis-enroll her. “Please let me dance; I will strive to achieve a mastery that’s equivalent to a doctorate!” Her mother advocated for her and her father finally, unhappily, relented.

Sen did pursue and achieve her goal: in the world of kathak, she is known as one of the few pure traditionalists of the artform. The start to being the most prominent disciple has an interesting beginning, involving a small measure of doubt. When she was barely a teen, she had not looked forward to being Maharaj’s student! She would see him with a group of his friends outside the Kathak school in Delhi when she would come and go to her own classes, and wasn’t sure if he would prove to be a worthwhile teacher. It turned out that he was one of the most patient of teachers and the rest is indeed history.

Her journey to being a well-known name all over India began when Satyajit Ray, the award-winning film director cast her in his docudrama Shatranj Ke Khiladi (1977). Sen performed the beautifully layered, unforgettable dance to Kanha Main Tose HaariWatch it here! How this came to be is also interesting.

Ray was a stickler for authenticity and had approached Maharaj to direct a couple of the court dance scenes since the latter is a direct descendant of the royal dancers at the Lucknow court. Ray had originally watched Sen perform at the inaugural ceremonies at the Asian festival and asked for her to be cast as the court dancer. However, Sen wasn’t sure her parents would permit, since there was a stigma associated with the film industry. “Will they know me?” Ray is said to have asked a young Sen, who was dumbstruck at even being in the same room as him. “Who doesn’t know you? All of India does!” was her answer. Ray went over to meet her parents and invited them to the sets to see for themselves how things were run above-par.

“People still talk to me about that movie, saying they remember that dance so well,” says Sen from Kolkata, as I spoke to her on the phone from the Bay Area. Indeed, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, when he approached Birju Maharaj and Saswati Sen to choreograph for his popular movie Devdas (2002) decades later, also alluded to his childhood memory of watching her dance in the film. The choreographed dance from the movie which features the iconic Madhuri Dixit can be watched here. “I had first met Madhuri (Dixit, a heroine in the movie) in San Jose, in one of our workshops. We were expecting airs, but she came in as any other student, dressed in a cotton salwar khameez and took her place alongside others,” remembers Sen. “On the sets, she needed to be forced to rest, she would not be happy unless every single glance and gesture was perfect.”

Sen’s international journey had its beginning in a different emotion, one of stage-fright. It was 1974 and a US tour had been planned across 30+ states. “I was cold like ice in the wings of Carnegie hall. I was forgetting what I had practiced. All I could think of was that I couldn’t possibly share the stage with stalwarts such Kumudini Lakhia (who herself decades later was awarded the Padma Bhushan) and Maharajji!” Also preying on her mind was the thought that she had at first been originally rejected as being too young by the organizer of the tour, the prolific Beate Gordon (women’s rights advocate and director of the Asia Society). But Maharaj encouraged her to just focus on her own strengths and forget that there was anybody else on stage with her.” Her first performance won over Gordon who said that she’d been proven wrong; that the audience had been mesmerized by this mere chit of a girl.

Today, Sen mentors youth looking for guidance in dance, in life. She’s beseeched by parents and teachers to help with teenagers who need help with “connecting to life.” “The need of the times is that we must connect with our soul. Arts and culture – these are important tools  to ground yourself,” says Sen. “I draw upon all that I have learned and pass it on.”

Speaking of how much the arts environment has changed, she says that “Nowadays, there are loads of opportunities: there are TV shows, presenters, national and international events. There’s more awareness now, but it comes at the cost of dedication. Dance has its own expression, ek ibadat ka dhang (philosophy behind expression/ discipline). Today everything is about speed. There’s no “thehrao” (gravitas or holding) –  to strike the soul of viewer.”

That gravitas can still be seen in her performances today; she turns 65 this year, but continues to dance. Indeed, the common ingredients between the performances alluded to in this article are the delicacy of the interpretations, the depth of the nuance, and the breadth of the expressions. One is afraid to blink while watching them, for fear of losing out on a precious, fleeting, and impactful moment.

Says Nag of the upcoming event on June 8th, “They are artists of such caliber, whatever they perform will be magical. We are so blessed to get the opportunity to witness so many masters on one stage!”

More info on the event here.

Mahadeva Gets the Nomination!

Over the last few decades, slokas, bhajans, and ghazals, even tabla and mridangam bols and kannakols (enunciated beats), instead of being practiced by the learned few Indians, have become a global interpretive art, finding a spot in trance, jazz, new age, world music, and Hollywood, of course.

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This inclusion has led to growing recognition of the music and musicians. And so it is, that David Vito Gregoli and Mala Ganguly’s Mahadeva has been nominated for The Hollywood Music In Media Awards® (HMMA) in the World music genre. The HMMA recognizes and honors the music of visual mediums (film, TV, movie trailers, video games, commercials, etc.); the talented individuals responsible for creating, producing and placing it; and the music of artists, both mainstream and independent, from around the globe.

The winners will be announced in November 2015.

You will have heard Ganguly’s voice in movies such as Eat Pray Love, Mission Impossible 4, An American Affair, and The Man from Elysian Field. And also perhaps, from recordings such as Prana and Bhajan (Re)Beats, of which Mahadeva is a part.

“It was yog (preordained) that I live in the United States,” Ganguly reminisces. “I came to learn from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in the 80s. I was in the middle of a talented pool of people-my bar was high, since Kolkata in those days was the hub of all music activity. I performed a few times here and was inspired by the appreciation and respect I received. The Sengupta family of Covina was generous enough to host me. So I just stayed!”

Ganguly’s mom was a gifted singer herself, so her childhood was spent receiving classical training in music and the performing arts. By 12, Ganguly was already singing on the radio and performing at concerts; as well as dabbling in dancing and acting.

Around that time, she was offered a role in the Bengali movie Parineeta, but it was time to make a choice about where to focus her energies; music was it. The famous film director Hemant Kumar chose her as the playback singer for many of his Bengali movies, such as Bandhan, which was later made in Hindi as well.

Ganguly is well-versed in many genres-ghazals, classical, Rabindra Sangeet, Nazrul Geeti, etc. This talent and her voice wins over skeptics, “The L.A. Punjabi audiences at first rejected a Bengali singer, ‘Bengalis cannot possibly correctly pronounce Urdu words!’-but then, the first event lasted for hours, ending at 4 a.m. the next day.” For Ganguly, that was an omen of the trajectory her career would take. “I never had a business card, [still] the invitations were endless, just through word of mouth. I am grateful to supporters such as the late Ranjan Guha, a family friend.”

Ganguly expanded her repertoire by singing for Anjani Ambegaonkar’s Kathak ensembles, which took her, over the next three decades, to prestigious stages such as at the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, and New York’s Lincoln Center.

In 1995, she was approached by Ustad Zakir Hussain for lending her voice to a film called Saaz. Many will remember that the movie was about music and musicians.

However, Ganguly had green card issues and had to decline. That same year, she found herself doing a Nike commercial during the basketball season. The commercial won an award and her relationship with mainstream U.S. media was cemented.

There were other commercials such as with Ameritrade and eBay, her voice was cast in Hollywood movies, the first being Hallmark’s Christmas Box, which was aired repeatedly. She was also approached by other musicians to collaborate on recordings, such as Gregoli. Gregoli is a multi-instrumentalist with a deep connection to Asian spirituality, as is evidenced in the name of his recording label “Dharmapala” (keeper of dharma or true way of life).

Ganguly is also a spiritual person, elaborating that “Music is my strength, my inspiration. I worship Lata Mangeshkar, Mehdi Hassan, Pratima Bannerji, Ustad Amir Khan … When Ustad Ali Akbar Khan used to perform, he would be one with God. That is what I seek, too, that caliber is what I hold as my goal.”  Her current projects include forming and creating music for a fusion band called Butterflies, which she has “dreamed of for many years.”

Incidentally, Ganguly is also a visual artist, the album cover art for Bhajan Rebeats/ Mahadeva was designed by her.

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.