Dancing her dreams

Dancing her dreams

Classical steps

Dancing her dreams

Navia Natarajan, 37, is a tall and slender woman who can pass off as a college student. And she carries herself with grace. This may not be surprising as Navia is an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer in the Vazhuvoor tradition known for its graceful movements and subtlety of abhinaya. 

As we talk, her face and eyes also contribute to the conversation — pensive and thoughtful at one instance; lighting up with passion the next moment; and twinkling due to laughter a few moments later.

Abhinaya, the art of acting and expressing emotions, forms an important part of nritya. Navia is all praise for her guru Bragha Bassel, under whose tutelage she is currently honing her skills of subtle expression. As she says, there is no end to learning. And she continues to be a student even though she is a much-sought-after guru in the US, where she resides.

Navia shuttles between the US and India; she spends three to four months a year in Bengaluru, performing across the country and spending time with A Lakshman Swamy and Bragha Bassell, her mentors. She recently performed at the Rasavikalpam Dance Festival organised by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi.

First steps

Navia was born in Kerala. While in Cochin, as a three-year-old, Navia would watch keenly as the kids in her neighbourhood learnt Bharatanatyam from their neighbour. She was too young to learn it formally, but the seeds of interest had been sowed. Since her father worked with a bank, he was transferred frequently. So, at the age of seven, they moved to Chennai. It’s here that Navia’s mother enrolled her in a dance class commanded by Radhika Kalyani, a student of accomplished dancers Chitra Visweswaran and K J Sarasa.

Navia learnt the art form passionately and delivered her Arangetram when she was nine-and-half years old. Her father was then transferred to Hosur. Chitra Visweswaran recommended that Navia continue to learn with Padmini Ramachandran in Bengaluru.

Every weekend saw Navia’s parents bring her down from Hosur to Bengaluru and her spending the day at the guru’s place to learn the nuances of Bharatanatyam. Despite the strain and difficulty, this back-and-forth between the places continued for nearly three years until her father was transferred to Bengaluru.

Navia then completed her Masters in Microbiology and started working for Vittal Mallya Scientific Research Foundation while pursuing dance alongside her education and continuing to give dance performances.

Her friends tried to persuade her to take up the art form full-time, but she was hesitant to take the plunge. Later, she got married and moved to the US and applied for jobs. That is when she realised where her passion lay. She dropped a bombshell on her husband and took up dance as a full-time career. From then onwards, there has been no looking back.

Performances & accolades

Navia has performed in several dance festivals both in India and abroad. The honours she has received are ‘Kala Rathna’ from Bhairavi Fine Arts Society, Cleveland, USA; ‘Nritya Shiromani’ and ‘Yuva Kala Bharathi’ among others.

Navia has also choreographed a dance piece titled Agni - The Fire. In this three-episode piece, she explores the aspects of fire as the provider of light, a creator; as a catalyst that helps purge the soul and start anew; and as a passion-inducer that ignites creativity.

Her experience in performing to a Western audience that is not well-versed in Sanskrit is definitely an eye-opener. Navia has realised the need to translate or decode the meaning into layers so that the actual emotion is not lost. As she says, “Ramayana and Mahabharata have innumerable stories and all of them are relevant even now. The persona or the character may have changed, but the emotions and feelings captured then resonates to this day.”

She quotes the examples of Krishna and Yashoda — the sentiment felt by a doting mother toward her child has universal acceptance.

Navia’s journey as a professional dancer has not been easy, especially as she comes from a non-artistic family; there has been no insider to hand-hold her. All her accomplishments have come through her single-minded efforts and unbridled passion for dance. As she says, “Only repeated hours of practice can make one perfect.”
Sudha Balachandran