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Yuva - Catalyzing collaborative creativity in Indian performing arts
- Janaki Rajagopalan
Photos: Thiru Arumugam, Golden Ray Photography

October 22, 2022

Eight exceptionally talented young artistes from different dance styles, schools and geographic locations, came together to elevate Yuva 2022 to a new level of excellence. Speaking of the vision behind Yuva, Dr. Lavanya Rajagopalan, Founder and Executive Artistic Director of the Indian classical arts nonprofit Silambam Houston, says, "The arangetram is the swansong for many US dancers, with few avenues beyond.....I wanted to change this." So Yuva was born in 2018, with collaboration and creativity as its pillars. Artistes come together in an incubator-like environment to create, innovate, collaborate, showcase - and forge friendships that can elevate art.

Yuva also upholds valuing art; artistes receive both expense reimbursements and a stipend. Application to Yuva is free and simple - applicants describe their arts journey, and a couple of creative ideas they want to develop. Janani Ramachandran (Yuva 2022), says, "It really made me dig deep into my creative 'trunk of ideas' to come up with concepts which I found feasible, as well as kept to a level of traditional parameters in the process."

Crystal Tennyson and Bhavana Gollapudi
Crystal Tennyson (Odissi, disciple of Supradipta Datta) and Bhavana Gollapudi (Bharatanatyam, disciple of Dr. Rathna Kumar)

A blinded panel of accomplished judges evaluates applicants. Varsha Vasu, another Yuva 2022 artiste, says this "gave a sense of fairness which is much needed in the art world... it was an organized process which contributed to a sense of professionalism." The eight artistes selected this year - Anisha Ramakrishna Yarlapati, Anugraha Sridhar, Bhavana Gollapudi, Sadhana Gollapudi, Crystal Tennyson, Gayathri Sampathkumar, Janani Ramachandran, and Varsha Vasu - are variously disciples of eminent gurus Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Sheejith Krishna, Priya Murle, Dr. Rathna Kumar, Padmini Chari, Supradipta Datta and Dr. Lavanya Rajagopalan. Based across the US, they embarked on a collaborative creative process over the next months.

Yuva's firm timelines and deliverables include a concept, script, production wishlist, and rehearsal video - with good reason. "Most applicants are first-time content creators, inexperienced in project planning," says Lavanya. "Last-minute scrambles impact quality." Throughout, resources and mentoring are provided as requested. The resulting original work, titled Samahrtya, (meaning 'equal hearts'), premiered on September 10, 2022. Adapting the beautiful and versatile gamut of ashtanayika emotions (that traditionally express the myriad feelings of a nayika concerning her nayaka) with creative ingenuity to contemporary situations - including LGBTQ romance, a social media /dating dilemma, and interfaith marital issues - Samahrtya enthralled both the sold-out Houston audience, and global livestream viewers.

From daring to imagined possibilities, to collaborating virtually as one production team, choreographing it creatively, and setting it to beautiful music - it was execution par excellence. The 'nayika-nayaka' gamut of emotions came alive in the modern spectrum of relationships and feelings.

Yuva participants thrive as performers, creatives and project managers. Says Gayathri, "Yuva taught me to step outside of my comfort zone. Whether with curation, choreography, themes, or anything else, everything in this production challenged me .... made me slightly more confident in my abilities as an artiste."

Janani Ramachandran and Anisha Ramakrishna Yarlapati
Janani Ramachandran (Bharatanatyam, disciple of Priya Murle), and Anisha Ramakrishna Yarlapati (Bharatanatyam, disciple of Sheejith Krishna)

Collaboration, one of the Yuva goals, garnered eloquent feedback. Says Janani, "Through Yuva, I hoped to achieve a solid network of artistes to whom I can turn to for collaboration but also constructive feedback. I also hoped to venture into nuances of choreography. In hindsight, I feel I got more than what I had hoped to achieve and am extremely grateful for that!" Sadhana describes it as " eye-opening experience in terms of adjusting to other dancers' choreographic styles, and seamlessly integrating it with my own.....I realized that I need to find balance between being open-minded and standing up for what I think is a good idea or approach."

Creativity, the other pillar of Yuva, also wins. Gayathri talks about honing skills " planning a creative process, managing artistes, dealing with creative roadblocks; curating .....effectively telling a story without diluting the art form... understanding how a performance can be perceived and how to change small elements." Varsha feels the process "...increased my ability to study existing literature, including discovering new sources, and ideating with a team to present it in a new light."

In encouraging young artistes, Yuva is on target. Gayathri says, "I plan on finding avenues to create more of my own content. I find this process to be so grueling and satisfying, at the same time." Sadhana asserts she plans to "Be ambitious, set tough goals and ask for help. And definitely work on more independent productions." Janani reflects on friendships forged. "Almost all of us have expressed interest in sticking to this cohort and trying to reprise our production or create a new one on a yearly basis."

Ashtanayika from left to right: Anugraha Sridhar (disciple of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam), Bhavana Gollapudi, Janani Ramachandran, Crystal Tennyson, Gayathri Sampathkumar (disciple of Dr. Lavanya Rajagopalan), Varsha Vasu (disciple of Padmini Chari), Sadhana Gollapudi (disciple of Dr. Rathna Kumar), Anisha Ramachandra Yaralapati

Yuva goes beyond one performance; the artists are invited to conduct workshops, mentor future cohorts, and perform at Silambam's ArtStream concerts. The ultimate aim is to boost confidence. Says Lavanya, "I want this generation to view performing arts as a viable profession with fair compensation. Only if we value our art will others do the same."

Janaki Rajagopalan
Janaki Rajagopalan is a writer, entrepreneur, arts lover and travel enthusiast based in Chennai

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