Fulbright to India, 2006-07

Purchase instructions: email info@fulbright.org with artist name & details of art piece

Artist Statement

I can still feel the pulse of my mother’s pats on my back, like a metronome, marking the phrases of her Indian lullabies as I drifted to sleep. From those early years of cradle song to a dual career in dance and mathematical research, rhythm has always played a vital role in my work. As an Indian-American dancer and choreographer, I hold the rich vocabulary of Bharatanatyam close, but am interested in using the traditional language to tell fresh stories—stories not rooted in a given place, culture, or mythology, but which touch on the universal human condition.

Although Bharatanatyam’s movement cannon—refined over hundreds of generations—is arresting even in the modern day, the south Indian classical form is stagnating on the proscenium stage. As I witnessed during my 2006-2007 Fulbright dance fellowship to India, the dominance of multi-hour storytelling of Hindu mythology alienates modern audiences. Paradoxically, the very classicization of Bharatanatyam—a necessary intervention that allowed a declining Sadhir dance to survive in 1930’s India—today yields a stiff formality that creates distance. For Bharatanatyam to thrive as it gains a place on mainstream stages across the U.S., new creative inputs are needed.

My choreography involves two major veins of exploration: intensifying the percussive footwork of Bharatanatyam through rhythmic isolation and improvisation, and probing the cross-cultural expressive potential in gestural storytelling. In both these veins, I tease apart the layered complexity tightly woven in Indian dance, deconstructing the form so that contemporary audiences and media can more deeply engage. Ultimately, I seek to evolve classical Indian dance out of the confines of traditional repertoire and staging and into more flexible, captivating currents of contemporary Indian dance.

a cabella
August 2017
Photo & video credit: Casey Lance Brown

a cabella develops the rhythmic and sonic complexity of Bharatanatyam, paring down other elements of the south Indian classical dance form to intensify the sounds emanating from the footwork and ankle bells. The piece premiered at the second annual Dance Artist Residency in the Smokies (Dance ARĪS).

September 2020
Photo & video credit: Casey Lance Brown

Nymphosis tracks the rhythmic transformation of a mantis from its nymph stage to a more mature form. Contained pulsing of a cocoon opens into the full extensions and realized postures of an adult. Commissioned by the North Carolina Dance Festival as part of the 30th Anniversary Season, this micro dance features modern Indian dance choreography and original music built on a Hindu chant, Western harmonization, scat-like Bharatanatyam dance syllables, and south Indian percussion loops.