New York, NY: Drive East presented 21 magnificent concerts in 7 days and 1200+ audience members at one venue — a feat that requires meticulous planning, a lot of coordination and a driving passion to salvage, promote and propagate Indian art forms with tremendous pride. From August 21-27, Dixon Place hosted this very prestigious festival, bringing a wide variety of performances, including some gems who did their debut performance in New York.
The festival opened with Grammy-nominated sarod maestro, Ustad Aashish Khan, playing intricate unrehearsed compositions in Hindustani classical music, followed by legendary Odissi dancer, Sujata Mohapatra, whose poise, grace, discipline and years of experience could be seen in even nuanced movement throughout her performance. Drive East hosted the premiere NYC performance of one of the finest Bharatanatyam dancers in the world, Apoorva Jayaraman. She is a disciple of the brilliant Priyadarshini Govind, and performed complex pieces that challenge both stamina and a wide range of emotion.
Drive East Leela Dance Collective dancers — Rachna Nivas and Rina Mehta (students of Chitresh Das of Chhandam school fame) — perform their New York debut where they collaborated with the very talented tap dancer, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, to bring out the parallels between Kathak and Tap Dance set to the same beats. Other Kathak collaborations included Kathak and Korean Drums set to the Seungmu tradition where in Jin Won performed Kathak to the beats played by Sue Yeon Parks. Yet another interesting collaboration was to see Battery Dance Company’s beautiful choreography meshing ballet with Bharatanatyam — which featured Unnath Hassan Rathnaraju.
While Odissi was performed by Sujata Mohapatra, we brought other rarer classical dance forms like Manipuri on stage. This year, Devdutta Sengupta Ghosh performed Manipuri along with her student Pramit Ghatak, where they showcased different episodes of Krishna’s life in Manipuri style. Kuchipudi came to the festival, with Pranamya Suri’s performance bringing out the feminine side of the style; contrasted with the fast-paced masculine approach used by Kuchipudi dancer Avijit Das. They both performed on different days and showed us so much variance in the same style, even though they used similar elements like dancing on the ‘tarangam’.
Our Bharatanatyam performers, though a handful, brought very different flavors to the table. Apoorva Jayaraman brought such crisp finesse and grace to her movements; while Christopher Gurusamy displayed the more traditional Kalakshetra style. Janaki Rangarajan brought dance theater to stage where she spoke and performed to help the audience divulge into her feminist explorations of Draupadi, a celebrated character in the epic, Mahabharatha. We also had celebrated duet Renjith & Vijna, who tandem dance to perfection and leave the audience mesmerized. Lastly we also had our own Navatman Dance Company perform with both our co-founders, Sridhar Shanmugham and Sahasra Sambamoorthi, along with 3 other dancers, to create complex choreography in fascinating unexpected ways.
On the music front, this year we had Hindustani Classical vocalist Indrani Khare perform beautifully. We also had 17 year old Shankhadip Chakraborty perform in New York, providing a platform for young artists to perform at prestigious festivals. Instrumental music graced the stage as well witha group of 10-12 year olds, Carnatic Guitar Power, who performed carnatic music on electric guitars. Other instrumentalist performances included, Ustad Aashish Khan on the sarod; Kinnar Seen on the sitar (accompanied by two tabla players and a tanpura player); and a band of musicians from the Rajasthani Caravan that combined mellifluous notes from traditional Rajasthani folk music combined with antics in both song and dance. Carnatic music was showcased by vocalist Shankar Ramani, who brought out such beautiful compositions throughout his performance.
We also had Ananya Ashok perform who has a voice that can transport you to another place and time.In addition, our very own Navatman Music Collective, a carnatic acapella group, performed a wide set of songs ranging from traditional carnatic to Bollywood music. Throughout the week, Drive East engaged both artists and audiences in conversations that include Indian art forms and finding opportunities to open up the dialogue to promote the arts to New York and beyond. We live streamed a panel discussion with male dancers, to see how they felt about being in a career that can sometimes be frowned-upon by society. Admist this was the creation for the Artist-Hub, a resource for artists to learn from each other, and from other experts in the field — exclusively for participating artists.
From topics like grant writing and fundraising, to creating a press-kit, to understanding physical therapy in Indian Dance, Navatman collaborators will be conducting a host of workshops to help empower our community of artists as a whole. In addition we also had Saturday Youth Day, to promote young artists like Shankhadip Chakraborty and Carnatic Guitar Power, as well as an interactive fair to engage little minds to develop a love for the art forms from a young age. Here is a link to some of their pictures.
About Navatman: Navatman, Inc was founded with an eye on creating a sustainable home for the South Asian arts in New York City and its surrounding neighborhoods, particularly emphasizing Indian classical music and dance. We are a game-changing organization dedicated to creating groundbreaking work in the South Asian classical performing arts in the areas of education, performance, and production. We are best known for our Manhattan-based classes, critically acclaimed productions, dynamic dance company, and stellar carnatic choir, all of which have received reviews in mainstream press including the New York Times, India Abroad, The Hindu, the Financial Times, and The Star-Ledger, to name a few. Navatman continues to see success in their goal to preserve Indian classical music and dance through democratizing these art forms by increasing their accessibility.