Krithika Rajagopalan keeps the family business moving along.
We had just a little trouble making a date to chat with Krithika Rajagopalan, one of the main figures in the Dance India conference taking place this week. Like many dance artists, Rajagopalan is often traveling between rehearsals or on tour.
But her life is stretched out in less concrete ways, too: Rajagopalan’s artistry exists in a framework that extends through bloodlines, centuries and across continents. As a contemporary practitioner of the 3,000-year-old Indian classical arts, Rajagopalan days are filled with both mudras and emails.
We ended up talking with her one evening after work via cell phone while she took a taxi from a Manhattan rehearsal to the apartment in Brooklyn she shares with her husband. “Take a left on Myrtle,” we hear her tell the cab driver. “You live in Flatbush?” we ask. “Yeah, I live in Crooklyn, baby,” jokes Rajagopalan.Krithika’s mother, Hema Rajagopalan, began dancing in India at age six. She had a celebrated international career as a soloist, lauded for her commanding presence and the rigorous intelligence that shone through her dancing. Hema settled in Chicago and founded Natya in 1975.
As a little girl, Krithika met many of Indian dance’s major figures. “They knew me as a child, tagging along with my mom on tour,” she says. Many of the important artists and scholars who will present at the conference are part of Krithika’s extended family. “I call these people auntie and uncle,” she says. “A lot of them were at my wedding.”
For example, Leela Samson, a respected choreographer who will attend the conference, is an old friend of the Rajagopalans. Samson’s innovative company, Spanda, will perform on Saturday 9, and Samson will be a discussant on several panels as well.
Krithika holds a position as assistant artistic director of Natya, which means she splits her time between Chicago and New York. If that wasn’t enough gallivanting, Krithika and Hema also go to India “all the time.” In December and January, “Madras becomes the Indian dance capital of the world,” Krithika says. She says that dancers from the Indian diaspora gather for a huge festival of performances, lectures and workshops. “You become a couch potato, sitting day in and day out at one performance after another, and you see all these incredible artists.”
The way Krithika explains it, repeated attendance at the Madras festival is an important touchstone for building relationships within the Indian dance diaspora—relationships that affect how Indian dance is transmitted through the generations. It’s also a place where Indian dancers collectively confront issues of globalization, immigration, aesthetic and philosophical differences. “You meet with your peers. You talk about what it means to be an Indian dancer in this world,” Krithika says.
Our own Dance India festival is conceived somewhat on the model for the Madras festival. “We want to share all these amazing dancers with the people in Chicago,” Krithika says.
While she shared curatorial and administrative responsibilities for the conference with her mother, Krithika will also take the stage as a dancer and choreographer. You can appreciate Krithika’s artistry in the Sunday 10 2:30pm performance at the Harold Washington Library. She’s adamant that the conference is “not just for Indian people.” Krithika hopes that by attending Dance India events, non-Indians will be exposed to what the art is, and be initiated into the nuances. As she says, “Bollywood is not Indian classical arts.”
The Dance India conference takes place Thursday 7 through Sunday 10 at the Harold Washington Library and the Chicago Cultural Center.