TDE Asks Rajika Puri And Tina Croll About From The Horse's Mouth's Celebration Of Indian Dance In America at the 14th St Y

TDE Asks Rajika Puri And Tina Croll About From The Horse's Mouth's Celebration Of Indian Dance In America at the 14th St Y
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Published on April 14, 2017
Singer MS Subbulakshmi & Bharatnatyam dancer T. Balasaraswati.

Discussing Dance Documentation And The Diversity of Indian Dance

From the Horse's Mouth offers a special production showcasing Indian Dance in America, its history and diverse forms from Bharatanatyam to Bollywood. 
Thursday-Sunday, April 27-30, 2017
14th Street Y

Conceived and directed by Tina Croll & Jamie Cunningham / Curated by Rajika Puri

Starring more than 25 artists including Aniruddha Knight, Hari Krishnan and Anita Ratnam.

For more info and tickets, go to

From The Horse's Mouth team including Jamie Cunningham and Tina Croll, 2009.

Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: Hi, Tina! Amazing to know that From the Horse's Mouth is almost two decades old. What’s changed most since you and Jamie first ventured into the project at a gallop?

Tina Croll, Co-founder of From The Horse's Mouth: The format has grown with both noticeable and subtle changes. We now focus on an individual, a company, or a form of dance. We are open to every form and style, and have expanded to include participants by video if they are unable to perform in person. All performers need to be included – their input is important for the historical record. We have also accommodated older performers, who can now tell their story with a team of young dancers performing the dance component. We have expanded From the Horse’s Mouth to include a gay/lesbian/transgender version. We would like to do more!

TDE: A little bird mentioned that the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts will be filming this production for their archives; does this ring true?

TC: Yes! They have filmed many of From the Horse’s Mouth productions, and have also just agreed to house our archives. In addition, The Jerome Robbins Division will digitize all of our films, which offer a living history of so many forms of dance! We are thrilled to be able to save these amazing stories that have been told in our From the Horse’s Mouth|Magical Tales of Real Dancers series.

Pioneers Indian Dance in US.

TDE: Rajika, as the curator of the upcoming Indian Dance in America performances, do shed some light on how each evening of performances is structured; by company, dance style, time period, et cetera?

Rajika Puri, Dance Historian, Teacher and Artist: In typical From the Horse’s Mouth fashion, a cast member will tell a personal story and then will perform movement of his or her own choosing, sometimes interacting with another dancer. I tried to include a range of Indian dance forms, such as the ever popular Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak as well as lesser-known forms such as Sattriya dances from Assam and Mohiniyattam. There will also be folk, Bollywood and contemporary Indian dance.

Tina and Jamie Cunningham have asked me to kick off the Celebration of Indian Dance showcase. I choose to begin with a two-minute homage to the great Bharatanatyam dancer, T. Balasaraswati, by first showing a clip of her dancing, and then displaying her photos while you hear her sing. This preview will be followed by my entering the stage as if to address her, and then I will sing the first line of the work she is best known for, in which she calls the child Krishna to her.

TDE: Those with a passion for dance history ought to take note of the special supplementary event on the afternoon of April 26: ‘A Century of Indian Dance In America 1906-2017.’ What were your sources for the vintage photographs and rare film footage that will be shared with the audience that day?

RP: I had done something similar at a press conference for the first IAAC (Indo-American Arts Council)'s Erasing Borders Festival of Indian dance in 2008, for which I had acquired photographs from dancers (even visiting some and scanning them myself). Some of the materials are from the Jacobs Pillow archives, and this time, even from Google searches, as I sleuthed a group of Indian dancers who were invited to perform in NYC in 1880! The film footage we hope to present is from the family of Balasaraswati herself and/or from Satyajit Ray’s 1976 biographical film on Balasaraswati.

Henna-dyed feet of Rajika Puri.

TDE: Are there any aspects of Indian dance that are often misconstrued?

RP: Most people might not know that although we say 'Indian,' each form is specific to a small area within India, sometimes even just one village. For example, Sattriya dance from Assam is associated with monasteries and performed by male monks. Many may not realize how intricately, and literally, linked our ‘classical’ dance works are to the music and the lyrics. Our ‘classical' or 'theatrical’ dances are an expression in movement of the music they are performed to.

I find audiences in New York City mostly know something of Indian Dance; either they have studied it themselves, visited India, or what not. They understand that we use hand gestures to tell stories and to stamp out rhythms with our feet. Perhaps what they don’t know is that we have hundreds of dance forms: dance theatre by men, solo dance forms performed in temples that are now choreographed for larger groups, et cetera. Or that each is connected to a distinct form of music, costume, and can either be set to locally spoken or read languages.

TDE: The Dance Enthusiast is a huge proponent of Audience Reviews; what are your sentiments on viewer feedback?

TC: We would love to hear audience reviews! Audience reactions are important to us as the audience adds energy to the performance. We want to know their likes and dislikes and to have them share our stories, as we learn from those who listen to them!

RP: I find public feedback invaluable in terms of film (imdb/Tomatometer), restaurants and hotels. But I prefer to learn more for myself, where the performing arts (opera, dance, theatre) are concerned; what can a 1-10 rating tell me? I do see how these kinds of ratings reach a wider public and am not against them per se. I just don’t hold much value to points ratings, since I am deeply involved in the performing arts and go to shows about five times a week. I prefer more in depth reviews before I give up an evening and (often) a lot of money to go see a performance. I’d be curious to know how many people base their ticket buys on these popular thumbs up or 1-10 ratings.

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