Deepti Mukund Navile’s Journey from East to West: Bringing in Classical Indian Dance, Arts and Culture
“Today, I feel that a great new experiment lies ahead of us which will be the silent language of the human body for translating thought and feeling into gestures and Rhythm . . ..”
From: Wisdom Comes Dancing
A moment of awe – silence – only rustles of the dancers movements, and the rhythmic dance bells (Gejje/Salangai/Ghunguroos)– the audience watched, spellbound, speechless, the electrifying body movements of Deepti Mukund and her two students! Deepti, like a story teller, speaking only in the language of mudras went on telling the story of Radha’s love for Krishna — her expressions, gestures speaking all of different emotions — passion, gratification, exultation, envy, fears. The audience was my graduate students from Towson University. The class was Art Integrated Curriculum. Deepti and her students were invited as guest speakers to demonstrate and talk about Indian Classical Dance.
I first met Deepti at an art exhibit, organized by the Upakar Charity Foundation. Deepti’s stall was called Hasta- The Creative Hand, where she exhibited hand-painted terracotta figurines, wicker and wood pieces. I was curious to know why she called her stall Hasta. She explained that Hasta means the “the hand.” Later, I came to know that Deepti is also an accomplished Indian classical dancer where Hasta Mudras (hand gestures), and facial expressions are the language to speak of all aspects of human life.
Deepti’s Journey from East to West:
“Dance is my passion, and I have been dancing since I was six-year-old. I had tremendous family support especially of my grandparents,” explained Deepti.
She comes from an educated Brahmin family of Bangalore. Deepti Mukund is a proponent of the Mysore School of Bharatanatyam. She learnt Bharatanatyam under Guru, Lalitha Srinivasan, Director, Nupura, Bangalore. Deepti commented, “Lalitha Srinivasan was not only my Guru, but also my role-model. I learned from her not only Bharatanatyam, but also how I should present myself as a dancer – stage setting, lighting, costumes etc.”
In India, she won several prestigious awards and accolades for being an accomplished dancer and nattuvanar. In 1990, she won the first prize in South Central Zone Competition, organized by the Government of India. The same year, she performed for Indian Television, Doordarshan.
In 1992, she got married to Uday Navile, and moved to USA. She brought to USA her zest for dance. In 1994, she founded the Natyabhoomi School of Dance. Later on, her sister, Shruthi also joined Natyabhoomi as an Associate Director of the school — together they embarked on this journey to bring in new awareness of classical Indian and folk style dances in this country. In 2005 Deepti presented at the International Federation for Theater Research Conference at the University of Maryland. For a short sojourn (2007–2010) she taught at Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Bangalore, India. She moved back to the Washington DC area in 2010.
Natyabhoomi School of Dance presents around 30 performances a year. She has both Indian and American students of different age levels. She has performed in some of the prestigious theaters in the Washington DC area e.g. Wolf Trap Children’s Theater in the Woods, The Barns at Wolf Trap, The Kennedy Center, Black Rock Theater, Takoma Park Art Center, Viz Arts Studio of Rockville, Kennedy Center and Strathmore Music Center. Deepti acknowledged proudly that her choreographed dance performance on Surya, the Sun God, was the first time ever any Indian dance was performed at the Strathmore Music Center. Some of her notable presentations include:
Surya – The Sun God – The Sun, the dispeller of darkness, is given a lot of importance in Indian Mythology. Nelson Mandela once said, “We . . . manifest the glory of God . . . and when we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
Meghdoot (The Cloud Messenger) – This is a dance drama based on the Sanskrit play written by Kalidasa. A Yaksha sent away by his King pines for his wife and asks a Cloud to take his message to his wife.
Kumara Sambhavam (Courtship of Shiva and Parvati) – Another dance drama in Sanskrit by Kalidasa presented in the Bharathanatyam style. The story of how Shiva marries Parvati.
The Girl Child Project – Partnering with the famous Flautist Deepak Ram and the Light Switch Dance Theater, Natyabhoomi has presented 2 intallations of this project to create awareness of social causes through the Arts.
I was really fascinated with Shruthi Mukund’s review of their performance Yatra. Shruthi, in her review (A Journey Through Dance, Narthake, 2004) wrote that Yatra was choreographed and performed to welcome and honor their Guru, the Kirans (dancer duos from Banglore) in USA. She said that the ninety-minutes of Yatra gives you an exciting introduction to four styles of Indian classical dances: Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi from the South, Kathak and Odissi from the North. The Yatra program was also interwoven with folk dances: Kaikottakali (Kerala), Oppanah (Keralite Muslim dance), Suggi (Kannada harvest dance), Karagatam (Tamil folk dance), Lavani (Marathi, a vibrant sensuous dance), Garba (Gujrat dandiya dance), Bihu (Assamese tribal dance), Bhangra (Punjabi). Shruthi further explained that dance and culture are a way of life, interwoven.
Deepti is involved with a number of charitable organizations as well e.g. Aim for Seva (orphanages in India), The Girl Child Project (domestic violence, and women shelter), Arshavidya Gurukulum (school run by Dayananda Sarswati). Her dance performances also go in raising money for these organizations.
Natyabhoomi has hosted many artists from India in workshops and presentations e.g. Guru Lalitha Srinivasan, Swapna Sundari, Guru B. Bhanumathi, Smt. Vasundhara Doraiswamy, Sri Kiran and Smt. Sandhya Subramaniam, Sri N. Srikanth Natarajan, Sri Praveen Kumar, Smt. Indira Kadambi, Sri Seshadri Iyengar, etc.
Deepti also creates hand painted pieces on different media under the banner Hasta – The Creative Hand. She commented, “During my three-years sojourn in India, I developed Hasta – a new way to express my creative self.”
Deepti is constantly looking for new ways of communicating with the audience, mingling new ideas. She is in alignment with the thoughts of Rukmani Devi, a well-known classical dancer of India, “To watch us dance is to dream, then you make dreams come true . . .. To watch us to dance is to hear our hearts speak.” Truly has Ruth St. Denis (Wisdom Comes Dancing, 1997) said, “Dance is a symbol of life – rhythmic, glorious, immortal . . .. It is language and a hieroglyphic of divinity. Let us learn to speak it and to read it.” Hats off to Deepti Mukund for bringing a big part of Indian culture to this side of the world!
This was published in the Confluence UK in 2015.
Edited by Adam Rizvi