Tag Archives: Kuchipudi

Bay Area Steminism: The Balance of Indian Classical Dance and Tech

Alongside their careers in the technology space, there is evidence that generations of Bay Area Indians have benefited from upbringings in a culture that has deep roots in dance, arts, and music. There are many women who have great careers in science and technology and continue to devote time to the Classical Arts. In fact, the roles that Indian women in the Bay Area take on to maintain a balance between their STEM careers and preserving the traditions of Indian Classical dance are remarkable. This is what I’d like to call STEMinism.

Dipanwita Sengupta says one of the reasons why she began pursuing Kathak was because it has a lot of mathematical calculations ingrained within the dance — in Kathak, she finds the union of STEM and the Classical Arts.

Bidisha Mohanty alludes to Odissi dance as her passion. She describes Odissi as a major part of her mental/physical growth and development. “Odissi dance gives me peace of mind, happiness, and acts as a distraction from daily life. If I’m busy and want to take my mind off something, I dance,” she explains.

Chandna Veturi explained how Kuchipudi was a form of meditation for her. She describes the work-life balance as taking a break from each other. “After working on one side for a while, you go back to the other side with a different approach and energy than before,” she says.

Selvi Pragasam pointed out that on a personal level, Bharatnatyam dance has enabled her to manage a lot of hardships.

All four dancers instruct their students bearing in mind the transferable, everyday skills that can be learned from Indian Classical Dance.

STEMinistas and Their Support Network

It’s notable to point out that one main commonality between these women who pursue dual careers in the Arts and STEM is that they all rely on a strong support system. These support systems are extremely individualized, and without them, many feel overwhelmed and quite fearful. Interviews with Bharatnatyam professionals relayed stories of how it took the support of all those involved in their lives to pursue a career in the Arts.

Naina Shastri recalls how her whole family was part of her Bharatanatyam endeavors from the start. Her mom envisioned her learning, her father would drive her to practice, and both were always in the first row for every show. There was this perception that women from respectable families shouldn’t dance, but when she got married, her husband encouraged her to continue dancing.

Rasika Kumar describes the support that she received from her family through her teen years as extremely motivational. Her mom’s dance school was something she could lean on to pull her career forward and it gave her a clear focus. To this day, she feels a sense of belonging when she practices with other students and loves that she is part of something bigger than herself.

Similarly, Shreya Iyer always knew she had the support of her parents from the start. They encouraged her to continue dancing through the toughest times of her career.

Kuchipudi dancer and instructor Rajesh Chavali.

A Different Point of View

While many women have maintained an incredible work-life balance, it’s important to also consider their male counterparts (who also concurrently pursue Classical dance training and a career in STEM).

Rajesh Chavali revealed that at first many people discouraged him from learning Kuchipudi. This prompted him to work extra hard to keep up with his Kuchipudi dance training. His STEM career has allowed him to take a very scientific approach in his dance.

Bharatnatyam dancer Ryan Nathan states how his love for the art form stemmed from the fact that it teaches self-discipline and history. “Indian classical dance is tied to spirituality, Hindu religion, art, and culture,” he says. The support which he’s received from his teacher and a few other notable temples, the priests, and board members have encouraged him to keep on going, in addition to fostering his passion for spreading Indian classical dance throughout the community.

Odissi dancer and author Shreyaa Karan.

Advice for the Next Generation

The inspiration we can obtain from Indian classical dancers is not something we can take for granted. The time, dedication, and love that they’ve put into their respective art forms while also pursuing a career in the STEM industry is remarkable. Gayatri Joshi, an Odissi dancer and instructor, says that whether you are studying, working, cleaning or, cooking, it doesn’t matter — dance always compliments whatever you do.

Chinmayi Arakula, an Andhranatyam dancer and instructor, finds that dance gives you relief from your STEM-based career. Furthermore, she believes that everyone should get an opportunity to learn Indian Classical Dance forms because the many years of training add to the love of Indian culture as a whole.

This is the kind of dual-ambition that the next generation should live by, and it’s something I am concurrently pursuing in my day-to-day life. In addition to being an Odissi Classical Dancer, I am interested in CS and STEM — just like my mother. I believe that both of these aspects of my life come together to make me whole — a psychological mechanism to help me cope with the challenges of a complicated society.

Shreyaa Karan is a rising senior at Evergreen Valley High School in San Jose, California. She is an Odissi Classical Dancer and a 2nd-degree Taekwondo Black Belt.


Parampara Festival: And the Flow Continues

A celebration of legacies – a festival of bhava, rasa, tala, laya – was recently hosted virtually by Sangeet Natak Akademi award recipient Srimati Aloka Kanungo and Eastern Zonal Cultural Center (EZCC), and powered by Kadambini, the popular Oriya magazine.

Parampara unfolded over twelve days like twelve gemstones, each day shining with the lustrous hues of established and promising Indian classical dancers from India and abroad. Guru Aloka Kanungo successfully visualized and conceptualized the festival with five days dedicated to the celebration of Odissi, and seven days of other classical dances such as Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Sattriya, Kathak, Mohiniyattam, Kathakali, and Gaudiya Nritya. Each episode was introduced by Baishali Bhuniya. The festival featured EZCC director Gouri Basu, diplomat and dancer Rajashree Chintak Behera, Media personality Sadhna Srivastav, and Dr. Sangita Gosain

The first five days presented a very commendable range of artists of Odissi, from scholars, researchers, to dancers and choreographers from various parts of the globe such as Rohini Dandavate (USA), Supradipta Dutta (USA), Kaustavi Sarkar (USA), Niharika Mohanty (USA), Rajashree Chintak (China), Supriya Nayak (Canada), Maya Devalecheruvu (USA), Maya Lochana, Pompi Mukherjee. Interesting ideas and discussions came up in the Nritya Kovid chapter where senior dancers and researchers, namely Dr. Snehaprava Samantaray, Daksha Mashruwala, Dr. Rohini Dandavate, and Niharika Mohanty, presented their choreographic or research-based works through slides and video snippets. 

Day one of Parampara started with Odissi on June 17th. There was a galaxy of promising dancers of Odissi from all over India who presented their craft quite gracefully. Rudraprasad Swain, Debashis Pattnaik, Arushi Mudgal, Panchanan Bhuniya, Paulami Chakraborty, Rudra Prasad Swain, and Saurav Samanta were among the Odissi dancers in the Parampara series who showed considerable promise. 

The sixth day celebrated Kathak and presented dances by various promising Kathak dancers of the current time namely Indrayanee Mukherjee, Shinjini Kulkarni, Sandip Mallick, Souvik Chakraborty, Paramita Moitra, and Vishal Krishna. Souvik’s elegant presentation of dhamar, Indrayanee’s nuanced ashtapadi and crisp pancham sawari deserve mention. Srimati Uma Dogra’s scintillating choreographic essence was visible clearly in Indrayanee’s presentation. Shinjini was elegant as ever in her poise and dexterity with a dignified presentation of abhinaya. Finally, Sandip’s subtle but chiseled movements left the audience asking for more. 

The seventh episode highlighted Bharatanatyam by dancers from India, and USA. The artists were Sharanya Chandran, Shweta Prachande, Anuradha Vikranth, Himanshu Srivastava, Samrat Dutta, Uttiya Barua, and Piyali Biswas. Technical precision in form and appropriate usage of bhava and rasa in the presentations of Shweta, Himanshu, Sharanya, and Anuradha was mindboggling. Piyali chose an unusual and challenging locale to show the mayura alarippu. Samrat’s dhumavati , and Himanshu’s kaalbhairav stood out for the sheer power of concept, choreography, and execution. 

The eighth segment showcased Manipuri and Sattriya. S. Karuna Devi, Paushaly Chatterjee, Sinam Basu Singh, and Sudip Ghosh presented Manipuri, while Anwesha Mahanta, Naren Baruah, And Seujpriya Borothakur presented beautiful Sattriya dances. 

On day nine, the audience witnessed Kuchipudi and Gaudiya Nritya. Srimayi Vempati, Minu Thakur, Prateeksha Kashi, Gururaju presented scintillating Kuchipudi, while Kaberi Putatunda and Ayan Mukherjee showcased traditional Gaudiya Nritya. Prateeksha kashi and Gururaju were breathtakingly sharp in their performances. 

The tenth saw the two most prominent classical dance forms of Kerala – Kathakali and Mohiniyattam. Priyadarshini Ghosh, Mom Ganguly, Smitha Ranjan, Methil Devika presented Mohiniyattam with utmost precision and nuanced expressions, While Diptangshu Paul and Ramyani Roy brought out the elements of Kathakali nicely in their presentations. Methil Devika’s sarpatatwam took the rasika to an experience of mysticism and Priyadarshini’s lasya aspect was presented beautifully. 

The pandemic has closed some doors but opened many windows into the world of art and culture. The entire event showed how the virtual windows can be used successfully to showcase the brilliance of classical art and rising artists of the various dance forms. Hope this enterprising festival reaches its goal of including more artists and audiences from around the world. 

Hats off to Aloka Kanungo and EZCC for this great enterprising event. Looking forward to more such events in the future.

Nandini Mandal is a Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, choreographer, Founder & Artistic Director of Nandanik Dance Academy in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the host of the Facebook talkshow, Shetubondhon, and a social activist, cancer survivor, and freelance writer.


Kuchipudi Goes to an International Stage

Younger daughter and disciple of legendary dancing couple Padma Bhushans Dr. Raja Radha and Dr. Kaushalya Reddy, Los Angeles based Bhavana Reddy is one of India’s internationally acclaimed Kuchipudi dancers. On December 7th and 14th, 2019, Bhavana will be performing at the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall alongside the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in their production of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’. This will be the first time a Kuchipudi dancer will perform at this celebrated hall. Awareness of Kuchipudi has instigated the opening of Natya Tarangini’s Kuchipudi Dance Center in Los Angeles, California. Neha Kirpal caught up with Bhavana Reddy and she talked in detail about what to look forward to in her upcoming production and the new dance center.

Please tell our readers more about the production, Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ that you’ll be a part of at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on the 7th and 14th of December.

I am performing as the lead and choreographing a Kuchipudi classical dance for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s production of Stravinsky’s’ Rite of Spring’. On LA Phil’s project, I am working with lead Los Angeles choreographer Kitty McNamee. She is choreographing modern contemporary dance for six LA-based dancers who will be accompanying me. This show will be staged with a hundred-piece orchestra at the prestigious Walt Disney Concert Hall on December 7th and 14th, 2019 as part of their Toyota Symphonies for Youth program.

Give us more details about the production and its choreography.

Stravinsky’s revolutionary vision of primitive Russia caused a riot in its Paris premiere and changed music forever with its emphasis on the pulse-pounding power of rhythm. Dancers will help illuminate this extraordinary composition. Using the language of modern contemporary ballet and folk dance, Kitty Mcnamee has shaped the piece while I will be starring as its lead performer to bring the colour and vibrancy of Kuchipudi classical dance choreography into the symphony. I will play the ‘sage’, the wise woman of the tribe who enlightens the villagers about the wonders of the earth, its five elements—bhoomi (earth), apah (fire), nalo (water), nilo (wind) and nabha (sky). She teaches children to respect their elders and honor nature. Using mime, melodic gestures and complex rhythmic patterns, she embodies the elements and tells a story through the language of Kuchipudi. I will be accompanied by modern dancers Angelica Dewitt, Sasha Rivero Justin Porter, William Mayo, Derek Scheisel and Russel Ridgeway.


Give our readers more information about the new Natya Tarangini Kuchipudi Dance Centre in Los Angeles, CA where Kuchipudi training will be extended.

Natya Tarangini endeavors to conduct ‘pop up’ and master classes throughout America where children can learn Kuchipudi dance from beginner to advanced levels under the Reddy family. Workshops will also be offered with exchange programs at the Natya Taringini headquarters in Saket, New Delhi, which will culminate in a dance recital for students at the school’s very own amphitheater. Natya Taringini’s centre at Saket, New Delhi is also well equipped with a hostel, guest rooms for lecturers and studios. I myself have been teaching since I was a teenager and running two branches for the Natya Taringini in Delhi.

Give us some more details about how the classes will be conducted.

At the Natya Taringini, we believe in the Gurukul system of guru shishya parampara and impart knowledge to our disciples directly. Natya Tarangini’s vision for its students is to ‘learn to dance and dance to learn’. We teach Kuchipudi in a systemized and holistic manner, including the body conditioning, the theoretical and the practical aspects of dance and the music that goes along with it. We also believe in teaching students ourselves. I will be conducting the classes in Los Angeles and my parents visit yearly. 

Raja Radha Reddy’s students have a long standing reputation of world-class excellence and our students are exposed to the stage from the very first year of training. Students with continuous dedication and excellence will receive the opportunity to perform with the family in concerts worldwide as well as to learn choreography. I would advise those interested in learning to kindly contact me or the Natya Taringini staff on our website for information on upcoming classes.


Tell our readers about what you are working on next—on both the Kuchipudi and music front.

Currently, I am working on a Kuchipudi dance drama project with Kitty McNamee and Vivek Maddala in Los Angeles. I have been researching the concept for a major part of this year and will reveal more details about it in the near future. My sister, Yamini, and I are preparing for a tour in Denmark in February next year and a lot of smaller projects are brewing. On the music front, I am hoping to release some of my unreleased songs and new songs that I have been working on between my dance escapades in 2020. 

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in New 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.