Article by Urmi Samadar

The LearnQuest Music Festival in their 16th year continues to be the leading Indian classical performance venue in the New England area. Every spring, audiences are enthralled by world-class performances in Hindustani and Carnatic vocal and instrumental; the lineup comprising stalwarts and upcoming talent in diverse genres. 

This year, LearnQuest is introducing a segment on Indian classical dances, featuring Bharatnatyam by renowned exponent Padmini Ravi and Kathak by acclaimed dancer Farah Yasmeen Shaikh.  This is both inspiring for dancers like myself, fellow artists in the region, dance students and enthusiasts. Most widely practiced Bharatnatyam, an expressive and energetic dance from Southern India, is known for its nuanced abhinayas, sculpturesque postures and stylized movements. Kathak, a story-telling art from Northern India, is characterized by percussive footwork, pirouettes and rhythmic intricacies presented with delicate hand gestures and subtle expressions. Audiences can look forward to Padmini and Farah’s spectacular performances on April 14, the concluding day of the festival.  

A master classical artist, Padmini Ravi from Bangalore, who received initial training from K.J Sarasa of the Vazhuvoor style, dedicated herself to dance and the arts for five decades. In recent years, she has reached beyond the traditional borders to explore allied art forms such as theater, folk, classical music, and cinematography. A creative virtuoso, Padmini believes “When we are in our artistic pursuits, we realize that creativity comes from an unknown source and place. We cannot plan nor anticipate. We can connect to this source only when we are relaxed and empty to receive. Dance is about control and no control. It mirrors life-we do our best and surrender.”

A guru for over 500 students, Padmini’s students not only train in the classical dance form, but also branch into choreography, teaching and training methods, television and cinema.  An acclaimed international performer, recipient of the Sangeetha Nritya Academy Award and State Rajyotsava Award for her contribution to the field of dance, Padmini’s name is synonymous with innovation, integrity and quality. She has led global workshops and seminars with universities, performance schools and collaborated with theater and music groups to create new performance texts in the arts. With a recent grant from Ford Foundation, Padmini produced a feature film “Shringaram”, converging media and arts in an exceptional way that could inspire future innovation. A lifelong learner, innovator, contributor, Padmini, is currently researching the ‘Intangible benefits of the Tangibles of Dance’ as her PhD thesis at the Jain University.

Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, a renowned Kathak dancer, trained with late Pandit Chitresh Das for eighteen years. A first generation Pakistani American, based in California, Farah committed herself to Kathak, the arts, as well as arts administration by founding Noorani Dance. A multifaceted artist and professional, Farah not only leads her Kathak school and performs globally, but also directs a performing arts company and hosts a podcast Heartistry Talk Show – exploring diverse channels to promote and preserve the arts.  Farah’s choreographies often address topics of historical and social relevance, including The Forgotten Empress or The Partition Project.  Speaking of her art, Farah says “When I dance – in performance and the classes I teach – my goal is to think less and feel more. I aim to be so deeply connected with the art through the foundation of my riyaaz (practice), that I hope to go beyond aspects of real time, and strive for a heightened emotional, physical and spiritual experience, of which I hope transcends to the students and audience as well.” 

A TEDx speaker, an Arts Commissioner for the San Mateo County in California, Farah (and Noorani Dance) has been a recipient of numerous awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts, Gerbode Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, California Arts Council and more.  Farah enjoys training students and performing in Pakistan, every year.  Audiences may look forward to her presentation of “Nazaakat aur Taaqat – A Delicate Power” at the LearnQuest Festival. 

Written by Urmi Samadar, an award-winning Kathak dancer, instructor and choreographer in the New England region, who has performed widely with acclaimed artists in US and India. In parallel with her dance career, Urmi, a Wharton MBA, pursues a profession in management education as the assistant dean at MIT Sloan’s Master of Finance program.