Indian connect through dance
On International Dance Day, April 29, two Indian descent dancer-choreographers discuss their journeys in the US and their unique fusion of Bharatanatyam and tap dance
A few weeks ago, a mutual friend shared a video. Curious over its title ‘Alarippu Reinvented’, I tuned in and was pleasantly taken in by the seamless blend of Bharatanatyam and tap dance. Choreographed by Ramita Ravi, an alumnus of Univ. of Pennsylvania, and Vikas Arun from Columbia University, the fusion brought together performers Maya Chandrasekaran, Devika Gadhavi, Maddie Murphy, and Rebecca Cannaday.
Ramita and Vikas, both Ivy League university graduates, have a thriving individual dance career in the US, and often push the boundaries to experiment. The two met through a friend from their participation in the American television show So You Think You Can Dance. Ramita is in Pennsylvania and Vikas in Seattle. She’s a pro in Bharatanatyam and he in tap dance, though both are adept in Indian and western dance forms.
During their first meeting, Vikas felt it was clear they have similar goals and methods of working. It was uncanny that both had been wanting to combine tap dance and Bharatanatyam but hadn’t found the right collaborator. “It was important for both of us to not compromise the integrity and authenticity of either style, and it was easy to work together because both of us had knowledge of each other’s art form,” says Vikas. Once they found a piece of music, the creation process of ‘Alarippu Reinvented’ took them only 2.5 hours. They had access to talented dancers who were willing to come on board, he recalls, “But everyone was busy. So our first rehearsal was while we were shooting, and we pulled it off in one take.”
Ramita looks at the similarities and synergies in their work and says, “He is one of the best tappers I’ve met, and I was eager to play around with rhythms that could be created with the union of Bharatanatyam and tap footwork.”
In the past, she had tried this fusion concept but it didn’t click until she collaborated with Vikas. Ramita and Vikas are both American-born Indians, with their respective parents’ hailing from Chennai. Establishing themselves as dancer-choreographers in the US alongside their academic pursuits came with challenges.
“I was attempting to pursue a dance career while at an Ivy League university. Very few attempt this, Ramita being one of those few. The second challenge was that Indian-Americans are heavily under-represented in Western entertainment so there were scenarios in which I got typecast,” says Vikas. He also wanted to develop a unique voice to shine among the many dancers/choreographers in the country.
Ramita was a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance season 14 and competed with a style called Indian Contemporary. She was the first contestant representing an Indian dance form on the platform. “I aimed to merge Bharatanatyam and ballet/contemporary dance in a way that preserved the authenticity of both art forms while reflecting my identity as an Indian-American,” she explains. She had watched the show for years hoping to see someone representing Indian culture. The experience fuelled her to pursue dance further.
Issues of identity reflect in one of her videos, Katakamukha, and Ramita emphasises that she’s “a big fan of using art to highlight social issues. In college I worked with my group, Arts House Dance Company, to produce a video series called the Impact Series. These used spoken work and dance to discuss mental health, LGBTQ rights, and body image.” She later heard the poem Katakamukha read by Shreekari Tadepalli with whom she collaborated for an independent project.
Ramita and Vikas are working on their next collaborative video which should be out soon.
The Article first appeared in The Hindu