Drive East 2020: Sanctuary Indian Dance and Music Festival August 9 – 16, 2020

Celebrating eight highly acclaimed New York seasons, Drive East’s ninth season will live stream to your living room in its first ever, fully virtual, global experience from August 9-16, 2020. From bharatanatyam to hindustani ghazals, kuchipudi to kathakali, and veena to sarod, there is something for everyone in this one-of-a-kind experience of Indian classical arts. Featuring seasoned artists alongside undiscovered gems from New York City, San Francisco, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Assam and Kolkata, this year, Drive East offers the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the unification of music and dance styles across cultures right from your home in this virtual, week-long movement.
“This year, Drive East pays a special homage to the importance of art & storytelling traditions: a universal sanctuary for expression and human connection. We wanted to draw connections from those traditions to what is going on in our world today.” says Co-Director, Sridhar Shanmugam. “With the world changing in drastic ways, Drive East 2020 is also about the importance of having access to these timeless art forms now, more than ever. The artists we have curated from around the world are grappling with what sanctuary means, both artistically and politically,” says Navatman Co-Director Sahasra Sambamoorthi.

“We want to examine just how the Indian classical arts can play a role in giving voice and safe spaces for expression during times of crisis,” adds Sambamoorthi.“ “This is also the first year we will be broadcasting the concerts in 4K UHD, giving patrons a completely different experience than some of the live streams happening now” continues Shanmugam. “Viewers will be able to tune in from all over the world, meet their favorite artists, engage with new exclusive content, and access a live theater experience through multiple angles and surround sound. We are calling back the temporal experience of art – these streams will not be accessible outside the scheduled concert times.”

Some of the highlights include Delhi-based Rama Vaidyanathan premiering “Back to the Stage” with collaborator and daughter Dakshina Vaidyanathan; their past duets have been described by the New York Times as “two sides of a coin.” Los Angeles-based Aditya Prakash (carnatic vocalist who has toured worldwide with Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, Karsh Kale, and Akram Khan) looks at what it means to foreign in the universal language of music. New York-based Hidayat Khan (a 7th generation sitar player hailing from a prestigious lineage of artists) presents an emotional exploration of what sitar can evoke. New Jersey-based Ramya Ramnarayan (with facial expressions that “rivets our attention” according to the New York Times) creates new bharatanatyam work on the bias of colorism in South Asian communities.

 San Francisco-based Ganesh Vasudeva and Dancers perform a bharatanatyam interpretation of the famed Yann Martel novel, Life of Pi. Mesma Belsare (described by the New York Times as “a tour de force…a true act of transcendence…”) performs “What is Justice?” by choreographer Maya Kulkarni in response to the political upheaval going on right now. Chennai-based Ashwath Narayanan (named “Outstanding Vocalist” in the prestigious Music Academy in 2017, Chennai, and tours worldwide) examines caste privilege within classical music and curates a list of composers from different religious backgrounds.

A number of rare arts are featured at Drive East this year, including Anwesa Mahanta (awarded the Yuva Puruskar by the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2014) presenting sattriya dance from the state of Assam, rarely seen in NYC or SF, Los Angeles-based Vijayalakshmi presenting mohiniyattam dance from the state of Kerala, with only a few California-based practitioners, and the sarangi by Delhi-based Kamal Sabri. The week also includes the performance of rarely-heard carnatic saxophone by Oakland-based Prasant Radhakrishnan.

Additional artists and performers for Drive East are: violin-duet by VV Subrahmanyam & VVS Murari (Chennai), live music and bharatanatyam dance by Navatman Dance Company (New York), a carnatic choir performance by Navatman Music Collective (New York), a hindustani vocal concert by Sandip Battacharjee (Kolkata), and a kathak concert by Jayeeta Dutta (Bangalore). Talk back sessions are interspersed throughout the week, highlighting the growth of Indian arts over the decades – particularly of note is the talk back session where artists and others in the field will discuss the the way politics shape or influence their art, in depth interviews with a number of artists, and talk of how the worldwide lockdown has changed the way they practice and perform their work.

Drive East is produced through Navatman, Inc. and supported in part by the Dance/NYC Coronavirus Dance Relief Fund. Drive East is also made possible by local partnerships with Nava Dance Theatre (San Francisco), Eyakkam Dance Company (Dallas), and a collaboration with technology company, APEtech. ABOUT NAVATMAN, INC. Navatman, Inc., led by Co- Artistic Directors Sridhar Shanmugam and Sahasra Sambamoorthi, is a performing arts organization that empowers the individual to nurture his or her personal evolution through interactions with the Indian classical arts. Founded with an eye towards creating a home for the Indian classical performing arts in NYC, Navatman is best known for our Manhattan based and now online classes, critically acclaimed productions, dynamic dance company, stellar music ensemble, and Drive East – a week long collaborative festival celebrating our mission.

Co-Director Sridhar Shanmugam received training at the Kalakshetra School of Dance — one of the most prestigious schools of dance in India — and his later training in Rangoli painting, modern and post-modern dance, acting, choreography, stage lighting, theatre and stage technique. For many years he toured internationally as the legendary dancer choreographer Chandralekha’s primary male artist and later worked with such famous artists as Pina Bausch, Suzanna Linke, Philip Glass and countless others, earning awards and accolades from the governments of India, Great Britain and Italy. He has taught extensively and conducted workshops at several leading institutions including Columbia University, New York University and the Brooklyn Museum of Arts. He maintains relationships with many of the top arts foundations such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center by serving on their boards and panels.

As choreographer, teacher, dancer and director, Co-Director Sahasra Sambamoorthi’s experience being born and raised in the diaspora only serves to widen her ability to connect with both Indian and non-Indian audiences. She has earned accolades and scholarships from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts Folk Arts Apprenticeship, and is seen by many as a trailblazer forging a new understanding of South Asian arts in the United States. 

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