Hema Rajagopalan is the Founder and Artistic Director of Natya Dance Theatre, an organization that specializes in performing and teaching Bharata Natyam, the dance-theatre of India. She is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer of international reputation committed to preserving Bharata Natyam in its full integrity, developing the art form in new directions and bringing it to diverse audiences.
Hema feels that, as an artist, her task is to produce aesthetically pleasing performances but also to consider her responsibilities as a citizen of the world. She is influenced by the evolving cultural environment around her, and uses her art to foster cross-cultural understanding and social harmony. As a choreographer, she has created numerous short works as well as over fifty evening-length productions that have toured to leading national and international venues.
Among the many prestigious awards that Hema has received are an Emmy Award for the PBS production of World Stage Chicago, seven National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Awards (the highest number ever received by any American choreographer), and, in India, and the Vishwa Kala Bharati Award for artistic excellence. In 2004, she was the first choreographer working in an Indian movement tradition to be selected by the Chicago Dancemakers Forum to create new work.
Scores of students trained under her have distinguished themselves as performers, teachers and choreographers. Her teaching accolades include the Master Teacher Award from the Asian American Heritage Council and the Master Teacher Award from the City of Chicago. She has served as a dance panelist with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council and other state arts agencies. She conducts workshops and master classes at colleges and universities throughout the country.
DURING THE CDF YEAR
The project began with extensive research into the origins of the movement vocabulary of Bharata Natyam. This included research in India into basic movement elements called charis, which can be seen in classical temple friezes and statues. The goal was to appropriate these elements and use them to extend the movement vocabulary of Bharata Natyam, thereby making this art form more readily accessible to contemporary audiences. In this way, the boundary between "classical" and "contemporary" was challenged and stretched. The research culminated in the creation of an evening-length work called INSIDE/OUTSIDE, which depicted five evolutionary stages of human experience: contacting, experiencing, reflecting, arriving and returning.
INSIDE/OUTSIDE coupled diverse contemporary movements that are rooted in a 3,000-year old movement vocabulary from India with lyrics and poetry to probe complex emotions and experiences. Set to an original musical score, INSIDE/OUTSIDE premiered at the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Excerpts from INSIDE/OUTSIDE were previewed as part of the Rhythm Asia Festival presented by Chicago Human Rhythm Project in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Recent works include The Flowering Tree, which premiered at the Harris Theatre in 2011, a collaboration with Mordine & Company to create Pushed to the Edge, co-creating Seventh Love with Lookingglass Theatre’s David Kersner, an international collaboration with Nan Jombang, a contemporary dance company from Indonesia, on the new original work The Incomplete Gesture, and the forthcoming premiere of Varna – Colors of White at the Dance Center of Columbia College in October 2015.
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