Building a career in the world of performing arts is not for the faint-hearted. Beyond the competitive game of talent, and the lack of stability, gender also plays a part. After all, until a few decades ago, female characters were performed by men in theatrical, musical and dance productions.
Dancers too are privy to these hurdles; but a coterie of uber-talented female dancers are taking steps towards building more visibility. Find out more about the Indian women who have made enviable careers out of their passion for dance.
Daughter of late classical dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai and space scientist Vikram Sarabhai, Mallika Sarabhai is an acclaimed Kuchipudi and Bharatnatyam dancer. Mallika shot to fame at the age of 15 for her performance as Draupadi in Peter Brook’s play the Mahabharata. In 1989, her solo theatrical performance in Shakti: The Power of Women gave a glimpse of the danseuse’s prowess in highlighting social issues through dance. Her theatrical production Sita’s Daughters has been performed more than 500 times in three languages across the world. A vocal champion of the cause of women’s empowerment, this IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus is a recipient of the Padma Bhushan and currently runs the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad.
Dancer-entrepreneur Mayuri Upadhya is the founder of Nritarutya, a dance company that does not follow the guru shishya model. Bengaluru-based Nritarutya has carved a name for itself with its commercial services for corporate events, films, advertising campaigns, wedding and social events and choreography consultations. Mayuri’s troupe has performed in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Queen of England and in 2018, Mayuri won the Broadway India World India Best Choreography award for her work in the company’s magnum opus Mugha-e-azam, a large scale musical adaptation of the classic film. She was also the creative consultant and concept designer for the song Ghar More Pardesiya in Dharma Productions’ Kalank (2019).
A graduate in dance and vocal technique from the Broadway Dance Center in New York, Aparna is a pioneer in contemporary dance with extensive training in dance forms like Jazz, Ballet, Latin and Street. She is the founder of High Kicks Ensemble – Chennai’s first all-women dance crew; the group performed at the Commonwealth Youth Dance Fest in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014.
An advocate of gender equality and body positivity, Aparna’s productions often revolve around pertinent social issues. She also collaborates with educational institutions for creating art and dance syllabi including those for special children. She has won numerous awards including Jeevotsav Sambhita Award for Conscious StoryTelling and TEDx Chennai Star Award.
Nayantara Parpia started training at the age of seven under Kathak exponent Yogini Gandhi and the legendary maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj. In 2004, she started performing as one of the lead dancers of the Kalanidhi troupe. In 2010, she was awarded the Nritya Shree by Utkal Yuva Sanskrutik Sangh at the Cuttack Mahotsav recognized by UNESCO. She also performed in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani in 2015. Nayantara is the founder of the Kathak Department at Apsaras Arts Ltd in Singapore and founded the Tridhaara Institute of Kathak in Pune. Today, she is among the most renowned artists, with about 34,000 followers on Instagram.
Being the better half of one of the most well-known faces in the world of cricket never deterred Dona Ganguly from charting her own path as an Odissi dancer. Wife of the cricketing legend Sourav Ganguly, who is the current president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Dona trained in Odissi under the tutelage of the legendary Padma Vibhushan awardee Kelucharan Mohapatra during her childhood. Dona has represented India at various cultural events abroad and currently runs a dance school by the name of Diksha Manjari in Kolkata which has more than 2000 students.
A dancer and an actress, Rukmini Vijayakumar has mastered the rare combination of being an exponent of Bharatnatyam and ballet. Rukmini learnt Bharatnatyam during her childhood and went on to get a BFA degree from the Boston Conservatory in Ballet and Modern Dance. She has performed solo at some of the most iconic stages in the world - such as the Korzo Theater in Hague, Drive East Festival New York City, Jacobs Pillow Festival in Massachusetts, and The Royal Opera House in London. Rukmini is the artistic director of the Raadha Kalpa Dance Company in Bengaluru and has also acted in a few Tamil and films.
(Edited by Athira Nair)