Elevating Indian Classical Dance in the U.S. – a Q&A with Anuradha Nehru
In our latest Q&A series, we spoke with Ms. Anuradha Nehru, a highly-accomplished U.S. based Kuchipudi dancer, choreographer and educator, and the founder and director of Kalanidhi Dance. Kalanidhi Dance is an organization committed to elevating Indian Classical Dance in the U.S. though training and presenting high quality dance productions.
We spoke with Ms. Nehru recently about her work and the roles she plays as performer, educator, and promoter of Indian classical arts in the U.S.
Since your foundation is in Kuchipudi, and for those who are not familiar, how would you describe Kuchipudi as an art form to someone you met on an elevator? What would be your elevator pitch?
One of eight recognized Indian classical dance forms, Kuchipudi can trace its origins to a small village in central India over 1,200 years ago. The earliest dances depicted dramas rooted in Hindu mythology and performed by itinerant all-male dance troupes. Today, more women than men dance Kuchipudi, in solo as well as group performances. The style is quick, graceful, and rhythmical, with a rich vocabulary of hand gestures and facial expressions.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you and your dance school is doing with Opera Lafayette, and how you decided to collaborate?
Kalanidhi’s initial contact with Opera La Fayette was as improbable as a collision between two random comets. Hopefully, its been just as explosive…..creatively!! Ryan Brown, Artistic Director of Opera La Fayette, had the inspired idea of an Indian dance company performing in his production of “Lallah Roukh”, a 19th century opera set in Kashmir. He googled for a possible collaborator and found us! That improbable beginning resulted a year later (January 2013) in the U.S. premiere of “Lalla Roukh”, which was a hit with audiences and critics.
This year Ryan suggested a bigger and more ambitious project — involving Kalanidhi Dance, the Sean Curran Dance Company (well known for its modern dance repertoire), and the New York Baroque Dance Company. The project was Rameau’s 18th century French opera “Les Fetes de l’Hymen et de L’Amour ou les dieux d’Egypte”, which translates to ‘The celebration of marriage and love, or the Gods of Egypt”. In essence, the opera celebrates the union of different peoples, and I was attracted to it immediately as it seemed a perfect metaphor for my adopted country, the United States, which is a melting pot of diverse nationalities and cultures.
You are a performer, educator and now you promote artists and bring them to the DC area. Why did you choose to take on these roles and what do you like most about each?
I don’t think I set out to do any of these things. The scope of Kalanidhi’s activities evolved organically. My passion for Kuchipudi initially led me to teach dance to aspiring young dancers while performing wherever and whenever opportunities arose. Soon I had a core of outstanding young dancers in the school that led me to establish the Kalanidhi Dance Company. These two components of Kalanidhi Dance – the school and the company – have complemented each other in ways that I hadn’t imagined initially. Both provide space for developing passionate dancers and seeing their growth, development, and synergy has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.
I firmly believe that the pursuit of improvement and perfection in dance – as in any other pursuit — is a never-ending, life-long, endeavor. Constant learning has been critical to deepening my understanding and interpretation of Indian classical dance and to improving my ability to convey it to audiences. Part of that process requires exposing oneself not just to the best exponents of classical Indian dance, but also to other forms of dance and even music. It seemed a natural progression, therefore, for Kalanidhi to present in Washington DC the best of Indian classical dance from around the world and to use these performances to inspire our students, ourselves, our growing dance community, and our audiences.
One refreshing aspect of the Indian classical dance that you bring is that it is not limited to Kuchipudi despite your background. Why is that?
High quality Indian classical dance can be a divine experience that touches the soul. It cannot be restricted to any particular style. Why limit the joy and inspiration that one can derive from dance when there are limitless riches from which to draw?
What are the challenges that you face in promoting Indian classical arts in the U.S.
All classical arts in the United States –- and indeed worldwide — face the same challenge of building a critical mass of funding and talent to sustain high quality performances. The challenges facing Indian classical dance in the United States are perhaps even more daunting, in part because Indian classical dance is still not part of America’s mainstream dance scene. We need to become part of that mainstream to attract new audiences but without diluting the integrity of our style which, after all, is a heritage that has been handed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years. As a community of dancers, we need to do a lot more to educate audiences on the beauty, depth, and universal meaning of Indian classical dance. One way to achieve this would be through workshops and community performances. Another would be to collaborate among ourselves and with mainstream dance companies so that we can build on each other’s strengths. This effort will take time, but that should neither discourage nor deter us.
Given your rich experiences and background, what advice would you give to anyone who is seeking to do the kind of work you are doing in its various forms, to promote the Indian classical arts in the U.S.?
• Be passionate about what you do.
• Persevere and never give up.
• Always put your art and its interests above your own.
To learn more about Ms. Nehru’s work, visit – www.kalanidhi.org
Also, to learn more about an upcoming production entitled, Krishna, Love-ReInvented, visit http://www.kalanidhi.org/krishna_love_reinvented/
Here’s a clip of Kalanidhi Dance Company: