Lifetime Achievement Awards to Hema Rajagopalan and Mythili Kumar

April 28, 2011

It is a rare scene to witness Indian dance teachers honored in USA for their work in USA in front of their peers. It happened in St. Louis, MO, at the three day St. Louis Indian Dance Festival (STLIDF), which witnessed more than 130 artists performing and more than 1200 patrons attending the three day event.

The tradition of Indian dance in USA is very much happening because of the hard work of several dedicated dance gurus, who established dance institutions, trained hundreds of students and gave the future generation an institution to look for guidance. While serving the art form, which they loved, they also integrated the Indian classical dance forms with American population, through collaboration with different styles of American dances which expanded the horizon of Indian classical dance. These gurus sowed the seed of learning in mainstream Americans, which has led to a deeper interest of American populace in classical styles such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak and other dance styles. A new tradition is being created by the immigrant artistes from India in the land of opportunities and expanding the Indian performing arts by providing new venues and new audience.

Soorya Performing Arts, a not-for-profit organization, founded by Guru Prasanna Kasthuri in 2002, is building a dance tradition through dance festivals such as St. Louis Indian Dance Festival which presents almost all kind of Indian dances. With its 3rd successful celebration, it has become a huge undertaking to happen in the middle of the Americas. This festival has created new audience for Indian performing arts. Conducting a festival in such a magnitude is due to efforts of volunteers and artistes who have put in hundreds of hours. Beginning the new tradition of honoring the services of eminent artistes has just made its mission a complete one.The STLIDF honored two teachers - Guru Hema Rajagopalan, artistic director of Natya Dance Theater, Chicago, and Guru Mythili Kumar, artistic director of Abhinaya Dance Company, San Jose, with Lifetime Achievement Awards in recognition of lifetime creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of Indian dancing.
Prasanna Kasthuri, Ustad Imrath Khan, Hema Rajagopalan
Ustad Imrath Khan, Mythili Kumar
Hema Rajagopalan, who arrived in USA in 1974, brought her three-member orchestra to the US from India for the first time, to accompany her own performances in 1980. From then on, she had undertaken two national tours with orchestra each year. Assuming a leadership role, she encouraged local musicians in Chicago to pursue their own art in the greater Chicago area. The Indian community was becoming aware of the rich classical heritage of dance and music and how much they contributed to the spiritual path. She provided her students, some of whom had been with her for twenty years, with performance opportunities beyond their arangetram. She became an ambassador for Indian classical cultural practice to the community in Chicago. Today, the Natya Dance Theatre Company moves the art form in new directions through collaborations with other arts leaders, such as Chicago's Looking Glass Theatre Company and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as national and international tours. In this regard, Natya Dance Company, like Hema, presents the best of classical and contemporary, rooted in the past yet showing the way to new things to come.

Guru Mythili Kumar performed extensively in India before moving to the US in 1978. She has trained and presented over eighty dancers in their solo debut performance and has toured with the company to India and other parts of the US. Mythili Kumar has taught Indian dance at Stanford University and San Jose State University. She currently teaches a fall semester course at University of California, Santa Cruz. She was awarded Choreographer's Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1989-1993 and honored in Ethnic Dance Festival for outstanding contribution to world dance,1994, was nominated for a Bay Area Woman of Achievement Award in 1998 apart from a Lifetime Achievement Award by the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival (produced by World Arts West).

Ustad Imrath Khan, the legendary sitar maestro awarded the LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS to Guru Hema Rajagopalan and Guru Mythili Kumar and spoke in praise of their achievements. He also honored the following artists with the following titles.
Ustad Imrath Khan speaking during the felicitation of Guru Hema Rajagopalan and Guru Mythili Kumar
Sujatha Srinivasan
Smitha Rajan, Sunanda Nair
NRITYA RATNAKARA AWARD was given in recognition of creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of Indian dancing to Sujatha Srinivasan (Cleveland, OH) and to Roopa Shyamasundara (Detroit, MI).

ABHINAYA SHIROMANI AWARD was awarded in recognition of excellence in abhinaya and creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of Indian dancing to Guru Sunanda Nair (Houston, Texas). This award was bestowed upon Sunanda Nair by another Mohiniattam dancer, Smitha Rajan.

Odissi dancer Sreyashi Dey (Ann Arbor, MI) and Kathak artiste Charlotte Moraga were awarded NRITYA CHOODAMANI AWARD in recognition of excellence and artistic significance in their respective dance styles of Odissi and Kathak.

Hema Sharma (Overland Park, Kansas State) was conferred with NRITYA SEVA RATNA AWARD in recognition of her work promoting Indian performing arts and spreading artistic significance to the field of Indian dancing