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Of the future of dance presenting…

Of the future of dance presenting…

As I sit at home, enjoying my quiet morning, contemplating on the happenings of last week – a week of intense learning at the Jacob’s Pillow with my fellow peers from the world of dance presenting and curation, I’m left feeling intensely grateful.

As I reflected on my life as a dance presenter, I realize that I walked through doors, left open to me and drawn into by unknown forces in the universe that has shaped and guided my decisions. With no real tools or resources or formal training I’ve had to learn the ropes of the business the hard way – by learning from my mistakes. Each event has been a learning lesson. Every human who has touched my life has been a teacher. A guru. And today, on Guru Poornima Day, a day dedicated to paying your respect to all your teachers, I think of All who’ve touched my life, helped me, mentored me, held my hands, given me their precious time and more, all who are here around me in person and in spirit.. I realize I’m accountable to the collective dream and hope and future of a community.

As I sit here today, I’m thinking of the fantastic work being done every single day by my amazing colleagues all across the country. I’m truly humbled to have had the opportunity to listen to all the stories shared by this cohort of dance presenters and facilitators. I’m grateful and excited about everyone’s work and am looking forward to supporting my fellow presenters and artists and my dance loving audiences in every way I can.

The 2019 National Dance Presenters Forum has been a game changer for me in many ways. It came at a point when I was thinking of changing directions. Yet again unknown forces in the universe conspired and I was selected to be one of the 15 presenters from across the country to be invited to be part of this amazing learning experience. One of the commitments I’ve walked away with is to bring more JOY to my community. I walked away with the realization that dance is the perfect vehicle to bridge the gap with meaningful conversations around various human issues. Keeping it real and beautiful is possible with dance. That dance is not just ephemeral but also a powerful catalyst for much needed change in our society today.

Sruthi Mohan
July 16, 2019

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Of Dancers and Acceptance…

Of Dancers and Acceptance…

It was drizzling when I got into my car the morning of March 12th. With low visibility and wet roads, driving down 360 felt like an adventure in itself. Even though I've driven down to the venue multiple times before, my GPS pointed out a new and apparently shorter way to get to the school. As I drove through the thick fog, with the rhythmic back and forth swishing of the windscreen wipers against the rain, I thought of the topic that I was invited to be a part of. Women in Dance! I thought of the National Women's History Month seminar that was unfolding at the private school that had invited me to be a part of their 'Women in Dance' workshop. I thought of all the women who had to navigate tempestuous and often dangerous paths in search for hope and acceptance. I thought of women who fought hard to be heard, of women who gave up their lives trying, of women who still continue to struggle. All for the sake of opening the doors of opportunities wide for us today! I thought of how important it was to honor their work; the freedom they have won for women world over with their words, courage, conviction of thought and action, and above all their perseverance. I thought of the women in my life. I thought of myself and my two girls... and the girls they will raise and support one day... and just like that I was struck by the realization that driving through that relentless fog was the perfect metaphor to what all those women before me, and the women around me today, would have experienced and will continue to experience as we sojourn through the fog of our circumstances to find our voices as we journey on to our destinations, fearlessly...

Finally arriving at the gorgeous campus, I parked and walked to meet with Laney, the talented young freshman dancer who was to lead the workshop on 'Women in Dance'. I had read through Laney's discussion points earlier and was quite thrilled to see how much thought she had put into the issues that she wanted to shine a light on. From gender disparity to the prejudice that dancers of color have to face, the topics were thought provoking and essential. 12 of us gathered in a circle on the proscenium stage of the theatre. Our group consisted of 4 students who were dancers and 8 who weren't. I was also pleased to see that two young men had joined the group. And I must add that I was most eager to listen to their views on the topic. Laney opened the discussion with 'The Panchakanya Project', a production that I'm currently working on that involves the retelling of the stories of 5 mythological women by 5 female dancers of today. It's a study into finding our voices as a community and giving ourselves the permission to listen to stories of women, as told from the female perspective. Often these narratives, have been told and retold reflecting societal pressures that these women lived under. Sometimes it becomes easier to break those barriers of the written or spoken word by being able to dance your story. And that is what Indian classical dance allows you to do - dance your stories. Laney chose to start with this topic to ponder upon the fact that women in ancient India were allowed to express themselves through their dancing traditions and while it was only recently that modern women could express themselves individually through the improvisational freedom asserted through newer styles like modernized ballet, contemporary dance etc. 'What are your thoughts?', she asked. As each participant expressed her / his views, I looked around the circle, pleased to find myself amongst a group of very engaged teenagers, many who were not trained dancers and yet were in serious contemplation about the value of classicism in dance versus being allowed the freedom to express oneself through modern dance. As the kids exchanged views, it quickly became apparent that while they all unanimously agreed that we should value and respect tradition, it was also important to move away from practices that restricted personal growth and freedom to express oneself as an artist.

I've often thought of all artists, dancers included, as those who shoulder the responsibility of being the ones to hold up a mirror to society. When Laney  quoted the famous 'Frank and Ernest' cartoonist Bob Thaves's caption about how Ginger Rodgers had to do everything Fred Astaire did but backward and in heels and then asked the question 'What does this say about our heteronormative culture?', we embarked on a journey that took at through various unscripted topics. We traversed quickly through gender biases and landed on the topic of male dancers and why there were so few of them. We spoke of body image issues that dancers face. We spoke of the ideal dancing body and how dancers struggle to fit into the mould that is carved out for them in order to be 'successful'. The dancers in the group spoke of how they had to be of a certain body type to do a particular style of dance. They spoke of injuries that they had to deal with and how they had to move away to other styles of dancing that worked better with their body types. We spoke of respecting the limitations of our physical form. We spoke of the extreme hard work that dancers put their bodies and minds through. We spoke of the responsibility of the audience in shaping public expectations of what a dancer should look like. We spoke of Misty Copeland and how racism is inherent in the dancing world. We spoke about breaking down barriers of color by learning to admire the artistic intention that is projected using the human form. We spoke of the Rockettes Corp and of their, to quote their spokesperson 'an eerie celebration of whiteness'. I secretly let out a sigh of relief as everyone seemed to agree that the color or gender of the dancer was irrelevant to them.

We then spoke of what is considered beautiful. 'Who defines beauty?', I asked at some point. The answers were very insightful. The role of social media and influencers came up and about how beauty is ephemeral and how while there are some who are considered universally beautiful, there are others' whose beauty is defined by standards set forth by influencers. I thought this was an interesting moment to ask one of our young gents as to what they thought about the concept of female beauty and if men played a role in defining or shaping the female beauty ideal. And what I got was truly a remarkable response. The young man responded thoughtfully... about the acceptance of attraction between men and how men aren't pressured to define beauty in terms of the female form alone anymore and that it not only liberates the concept of beauty but also means that women have finally gained ownership of the narrative around female beauty. We are all responsible, we concluded, in changing the way the world perceives and defines beauty. We are all responsible for changing the way society accepts dancers.

I walked away with many thoughts... of how dancers are more than pretty and lithe beings that float gracefully around a stage.
That dancers are more than a body type or a skin coloring...
That dancers are not to be limited by their gender...
That dancers are more than beautiful dancing bodies that move across space and time...
That dancers are artists who create beautiful works of art using their bodies and minds...

Dancers have the power to move you because they know how to reach into the depths of your heart. And they know this only because they are delicate, vulnerable humans who have chosen to be our most intimate reflections of ourselves. To accept a dancer and his / her art is to accept yourself!

Sruthi Mohan
March 21, 2019

 

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Bhaitak@consulate

Bhaitak@consulate

Hosted by the Indian Consulate of NYC, under the label of ‘Bhaitak@consulate’, an in-house concert series that brings the best artists in the country to NYC’s passionate & exceptionally knowledgeable art lovers & connoisseurs, was a wonderful treat indeed! The setting was gorgeous and intimate and there were multiple occasions throughout the evening wherein I felt that I was transported back into the ancient courts of Kings & queens. A time when classical arts thrived and flourished.

Madhavi Mudgal Ji, along with the gorgeous Arushi Mudgal & Dancers were simply amazing. The sheer brilliance of Madhavi Ji’s choreography at many points left me astounded. She showed us that there truly is no limits to creativity and genius. Intelligent use of space and time, vibrant foot work, graceful & fluid yet unexpected movement patterns left me gasping with delight, it truly was such an enriching experience for me! This is the first time I’m watching Madhavi Ji live and I must say that I’m totally in awe and love with her work & more importantly, with the way her brilliant creative mind weaves and designs beautiful patterns in space using the human body!

A huge shout out to the amazing Jonathan Hollander, an ardent devotee and passionate supporter of Indian classical dance in the US; an extraordinary human whose life long passion for dance has gifted us, lovers of dance, a cornucopia of splendid experiences. Thanks to him and his constant ‘battering’ ( a play on words alluding to his world famous ‘Battery Dance Company’) as the Consul General, Sandeep Chakravorty, jokingly acknowledged, he was instrumental in making this gorgeous evening a reality! Thank You so much for making NYC shine a lot more brighter tonight.

And Thank You so much to my dearest Rajika Ji for bringing us all together under one roof yet again. As usual it was such joy to catch up with some of my favorite dancers in this country – Kuldeep Singh, Madhusmita Bora, Julia Kulakova, Angelina Haque, Sonali Skandan, Sridhar Shanmugam & more.

Do check out the official photo reviews by Jay Mandal

Catch more video clips from tonight’s show at Tat Tvam asi’s Instagram stories.

Watch the Live telecast of the show here!

The show was made possible with many Thanks to Battery Dance, TV Asia, State Bank of India & Incredible India
Indian Council For Cultural Relations

– This article has been reproduced from a FB post written by Sruthi Mohan

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The Dancers’ Retreat

The Dancers’ Retreat

The Dancers’ Retreat that followed Vivartana, on the 14/15/16th of May, 2018 saw, for the first time, many Bharathanatyam dancers fly into Austin to spend 3 blissful days, amongst the tranquil serenity of a private Texan ranch right in the midst of our beautiful hill country terrain. It was 3 full days of learning, discussions centered around dance and related issues and forging bonds of friendship that will hopefully come together to create exciting works in the future.

Rama Ji, who had planned and guided the entire program, ensured that everyone got ample opportunities to voice their concerns, opinions, ideas and made time to work with each dancer individually to provide help and advice with each one’s individual choreographic processes. The invited speakers each spoke with great passion about their individual topics, answered questions and gave guidance. Do check out the FB Live videos of the speakers, Sushant Jadhav, Anu Naimpally & Anisha Rajesh on my wall.

The communal living brought everyone together and the spirit of sharing and camaraderie was palpable. If there is anything that stood out beyond the exceptional learning opportunity that this was, it definitely is the possibility of the seeds of a lifelong bond amongst all of us that have been planted.

Art cannot thrive in seclusion. Together we came as a passionate community of creators and together shall we continue to support each other’s artistic and creative journeys.

More photos and videos here.

– This article has been reproduced from a FB post written by Sruthi Mohan

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‘Vivartana – Dance Transforms’

‘Vivartana – Dance Transforms’

‘Vivartana – Dance Transforms’ was truly an unforgettable experience for all of us! Rama Vaidyanathan and her brilliant ensemble comprising of Dakshina Vaidyanathan Baghel, Sannidhi Vaidyanathan, Rohini Dhananjaya, Kavya Selvi Ganesh, Sophia Salingaros and Sushanth Jadav together wove a magnificent tapestry of stories that reinforced the transformational power of dance. From Meera Bhai, blissful in her joyful dancing with her beloved Krishna as depicted by Dakshina, to the mesmerizing movements of the whirling Sufi dervishes by the superbly talented Kavya, to Narsi’s vision of the divine dance of the Gopis of Brindavan, to the spellbinding depiction of Shiva in Shwasam by Smt Rama Vaidyanathan, there were countless moments that left us speechless. Yet the thunderous applause after each story spoke volumes. And as many dancers expressed, Vivartana, that was showcased in Austin, TX by @tattvamasiatx on May 13, 2018- truly was a marvelous celebration of both Barasaraswati Amma’s 100th birthday as well as a much deserved Mother’s Day Gift for many of us!

Watch short video clips here.

For more photos: Santhan Parameswaran Photography

– This article has been reproduced from a FB post written by Sruthi Mohan

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‘Enduring Silence’ by Parul Shah

‘Enduring Silence’ by Parul Shah

This was definitely one of my favorite performances of 2017. I was blown away by the poignant simplicity of this intricate work and the effectiveness with which Parul Shah was able to convey a very important social message, when I saw her perform live at The Indo-American Arts Council’s 2017 Indoor Indian Dance Festival.

Here is a must watch artist! Parul Shah’s work is beautiful, intelligent, sensitive and thought provoking. Accompanied by the equally brilliant Trina Basu Ramamurthy, this is a show you must watch.

More details of ‘Enduring Silence’ in the video Here.

Read more about Parul Shah and her dance company Parul Shah Dance Company. Check out some of their latest offering on their FB page.

– This article has been reproduced from a FB post written by Sruthi Mohan

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When artists unite…

When artists unite…

Dance and Music are the on going symbols of unity. It is love.

Melanie LomoffRama Vaidyanathan , Satish Venkatesh & Rajat Prasanna are magicians who can weave art as fine as glistening gossamer threads that float away taking you captive with them.

Watch this gorgeous video of these brilliant artists create magic together at the Brave Festival published on August 2014 Here.

– This article has been reproduced from a FB post written by Sruthi Mohan

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Eternal love stories and New Year Wishes

Eternal love stories and New Year Wishes

Love is an Ashtapathi.

The Gita Govinda, a compilation of Love Songs, was written by the 12th century poet Saint Jayadeva to immortalize the eternal love of Radha and Her Dark Blue Lord, Krishna. This particular song, the 6th song, lovelorn Radha reminisces about her first sweet union with her beloved. She tells her Sakhi, her friend, of that evening when they met in secret, in the hidden forest bowers; of the time when he spread a bed of tender leaves for them to lie on and how he gently lay on her chest. “ Oh Sakhi, how I leaned in to give in to kiss his tender lips as he held me in his loving arms. And how my eyes, filled with love and longing, languidly closed as I lay blissfully tired …. and their love story continues into the 21st century. Isn’t life all about celebrating love?

Like the divine and ethereal love of Radha and Krishna, lives on forever… May the new year bring more Love to all! May your holidays be filled with love, love and more love.

Wishing Everyone a very Happy Holiday Season & a prosperous 2018 filled with lots of love, laughter, health & kindness to all!

This ashtapathi was choreographed by and taught to Tat Tvam Asi’s workshop participants by Dr Neena Prasad during her 2017 US Tour. Music has been composed and sung by Madhavan Nampoothiri. Stay tuned for exciting news regarding performance opportunities coming up in 2018 for all TTA workshop participants.

Watch the video Here.

Darial Sneed , an amazing artist whose photographic work I’ve been captivated by for a long while has, in this photograph, beautifully captured the ecstatic joy of the Gopis as they dance the Divine Raas, in total abandon, with their dark Blue Lord Krishna!

This beautiful photograph was captured on August 15th at the ‘Erasing Borders Festival of Indian Dance’ hosted by the Indo-American Arts Council and presented by Jonathan Hollander & the Battery Dance Company at Battery Dance Festival 2017!

This festival maintains its sophisticated representation of Indian Dance forms from across the Indian Sub-continent thanks to the expert curation by Rajika Puri & Uttara Coorlawala ; directed by Deepsikha Chatterjee ; social media campaigns managed by Suman Gollamudi Nanduru; hospitality director Vasanti Mirchandani ; Dance Festival Coordinator Dominique Legros; all under the vision and leadership of the executive and artistic director Aroon Shivdasani.

Love the work Indo-American Arts Council has been doing diligently for years for promoting the cause of South Asian Arts in the US ! Here’s wishing IAAC many many more years of continued success.

Check out their exciting upcoming events Here.

– This article has been reproduced from a FB post written by Sruthi Mohan

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Decreasing audiences for classical dance performances

Decreasing audiences for classical dance performances

Anita R Ratnam says it as it is.

What can be done about this? Decreasing audiences for classical dance performances is a problem that plagues organizers/ dancers/ dance lovers alike.

While almost every kid I know learns some sort of dance, I’ve seldom seen these kids or their dance teachers/ dance institutions attend these professional shows-in the city that I live in and in some of the surrounding area cities too. Does this trend exist in your city too? How do children develop an interest for attending these shows if their teachers/ dance institutions don’t encourage or provide the required motivation to the next generation to attend these shows? Isn’t art appreciation a habit that needs to be cultivated? Shouldn’t teachers be encouraging their students to be inspired by the artistry of professional dancers? Training alone is not enough if you don’t experience the magic of watching a live performance. And of course as Anita Ji says people prefer to spend money on the food served rather than paying for the tickets to the show!!! What gives??? Why spend on teaching kids dance when you won’t support the men and women who are desperately trying to make a livelihood by dancing professionally??? What kind of message is this giving out to future dancers?

I’ve always thought of this as an important topic that needs to be discussed. A healthy society needs art to nurture its collective creative energy. And classical dance is one of the most evolved and expressive forms of art there is. To see it suffering due to lack of participation and support from the public and government is a terrible thing. This is a problem that has a solution. All it takes is active participation. Government funding is unreliable and highly competitive and fraught with red tape and delays. Private sponsorships without audiences (or worser still-distracted audiences-you know the type-the ones who are busy on their cellphones or having an animated conversation with the person next to them while the show is going on) is meaningless. All it takes is making an effort to pay the ticket and actually going for a show wholeheartedly. Make it a family ritual if you have to but do support classical dance/ professional dancers/ committed organizers in some way or the other. Otherwise all that money you are spending on your child’s dance lessons is nothing but wasted money because he/ she is definitely not going to benefit from it in the future.

And unlike what people might imagine, behind all that glamour of dancing professionally, is countless hours of physically taxing hard work, living pay check to pay check, writing endlessly to organizations seeking to get a performance, unmanageable expenses that come from studio rentals, travel expenses, payments to musicians and other technicians, networking with industry critics, fund raising and so on. The list is both tiring and endless. I’ve always been an advocate for classical dance. As a trained dancer as well as a classical dance organizer, I’ve seen both sides of existence. And it’s not glamorous. It’s just plain hard work that does not gets paid. These professionals are not dancing because it helps them pay the bills – they are doing it because they are passionate about their art. It’s quite sad that as a society we are not making their lives any easier. Or acknowledging the meaningful contributions they are making in our mundane lives with their beautiful art.

Support classical dance!

Attend classical dance shows! Or atleast have an open discussion about what we can do to change things….

Read the Anitha Rathnam’s original article Here.

– This article has been reproduced from a FB post written by Sruthi Mohan

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