I first heard of Natyalaya and the charismatic Vinitha Subramaniam as a grad student at UT. Little did I know that Vinitha Aunty and the extended Natyalaya community would become my proxy family. I started teaching at Natyalaya after I graduated from UT in 2000. I still lived on campus, and classes were held at the Art Auditorium on UT campus.
Performances were plenty at the time, including annual recitals, as well as Barsana Dham performances and UT’s Tamil Cultural Association events we participated in. We even performed Aadi Kondar at the Buddhist temple which boasted a very unique stone-paved outdoor space. A few years later, classes moved to the Asian American Cultural center, and we added several new batches of students now that we had more space. So lovely to spend my evenings being surrounded by dance and music and choreography!
Come summer, camps and arangetrams took over our schedule. We had various gurus from India come and teach our students—everything from dance theory, to conditioning and nattuvangam. Arangetram practices were set to live music with orchestra often coming all the way from India, with excellent support from local Austin artistes. And the food—our Natyalaya families took it upon themselves to feed campers and orchestra members, and we were treated to such delicious culinary fare over the summer!
A favorite memory from that time is the 2 Faces of Shiva program. The first half was a reimagined version of the traditional Roopamujoochi Varnam performed to live music. The second half was our debut of Antariksha, choreographed and taught as part of the 2005 summer camp by Shri. Narendra Kumar. The production featured fast rhythmic patterns, creative jatis, and a visual treat of choreography. Needless to say, the group had worked hard to be super coordinated. During the first act, there was an issue with the AV system and we lost audio. We restarted the performance and did it all over again and the audience was so delighted.
Hard to believe that was nearly 20 years ago and Natyalaya is turning 40. So many memories, stories and highs over 4 decades and I feel so privileged to be a part of its history. Here’s to the next 40!