I feel lucky to have Indianica Academy as the creative ground for my first formal photo shoot of Indian dancers, and not of just a performance but developing a concept of Navarasa (Nine Emotions).
Many know about my long and deep involvement with the Indian clientele which is my second-largest after the Russian-speaking. It all started with Indian weddings, with my first dating 10 years back to 2009, of Mena and Ashwin. Things expanded since then to maternity, family, commercial, fashion, and events but not if Indian dancers, except for my brief informal photoshoot for Sruthi in Chicago, IL during my cross-country ZORPHOTOUR. Yet this happened: Mena’s wedding caught the eye of Meera; Meera brought me to her wedding in India in 2012 (my first of five weddings there); Meera’s friend Dipti hired me for her maternity; Dipti’s friend Akshar from Indianica Academy contacted me in 2016:
Ironically, Meera is herself a devoted Indian dancer and choreographer of Boston Bollywood but she always lived too far from me to keep working past her wedding.
Indianica Academy became my pass into the wonders of the Indian dance art. Its story is special. Akshar’s mother, Padma Khanna Sidana, who is a Bollywood actress, dancer and director with over 300 credits in Indian cinematography, founded the school. She moved to the US from Mumbai and opened the dance studio in 1996 in Iselin, NJ with her husband, the late Bollywood producer Jagdish Sidana. Opened to the residents of New York and New Jersey ages six and up who wish to experience Indian culture first hand, the Academy promotes the local talents and has showcased them from the local high schools to the stages of Carnegie Hall and Disneyland Paris.
Akshar and I first envisioned a grand art project involving Indianica Academy instructors and students but ran into logistical challenges and put it on hold. Meantime, I covered their two latest annual productions that showcase the fruits of the school’s year-long choreography classes, Chamakte Sitaaray (Shining Stars). It’s a full evening of entertainment with Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Bollywood numbers, western pop, hip-hop, and ballroom dancing in the mix. As a tribute to Ms. Padma Khanna, every year a Bollywood star or dancer visits as a guest of honor, often traveling from India: Aashka Goradia, Shikha Singh, Sunil Grover, Keerti Nagpure, Krystle D’Souza, Karan Tacker, Sakshi Tanwar, Shampa Gopikrishna, Bertwin Ravi D’Souza were among the recent. The next show takes place on June 22, 2019, come to experience the cultural bonanza!
There are eight academically recognized as traditional dances and two of these classic Indian dances dating thousands of years back are Bharatanatyam (South India) and Kathak (North India). Both are found in the core Indianica Academy curriculum. They were the early means of communication and expression, including human emotions (rasas) through moves and facial expressions. Natyasastra, an ancient Sanskrit text of dramatic theory and other performance arts written between 200 BC and 200 AD, discusses eight primary rasas:
Four of them are considered “positive”, the others – “negative”. The ninth one, Shaantha, was added by the later authors; it signifies peace or tranquility. These nine emotions (Navarasa) have long been reflected though the art of Bharatanatyam.
Feeling the void of proper portraits besides my performance photography, Akshar invited me to Indianica Academy to work with two of the choreographers, school’s graduate Priyanka Patel and Dhruvi Soni who is M.A. in Bharatanatyam. Professional makeup was done by Anu Sarin. The main theme was Navarasa and here is my take:
I made the positive ones radiant by cranking extra power into the back light and adding a colorful filter. The negative ones needed a more contrasty light and edgier filter in post production. The center one, a balance of black and white, represents peace and harmony.
We had a little time left after Navarasa and improvised a few other ideas and poses:
We couldn’t work on these portraits of Indianica Academy dancers without paying the due respect to the school’s founder, Ms. Padma Khanna. Here she is, in her ever-lasting glory and charm:
In conclusion, I’d like to express yet another notion of gratitude to Akshar for his kind heart. He supported the concept of ZORPHOTOUR project, Indianica Academy was one one of its valuable sponsors. Akshar is an incredible artist, coach, and businessman. Speaking to him is a sheer delight and self-improvement. Here’s to more projects and opportunities of being immersed into the magical art of Indian dance. Best wishes of artistic achievements to the Academy and students’ cultural fulfillment!