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Dancer, Taiko team for larger audience

Indian performer blends tradition, culture on stage
by: Courtesy of Beaverton Arts Commission 
Subashini Ganesan brought the traditions of South Indian Bharathanatyam dance this summer to Ten Tiny Dances, where dancers perform on stages measuring four square feet .

Subashini Ganesan is a master storyteller, although words are not a major part of her medium.

Gliding across stages in ornate, explosively colorful costumes, Ganesan's seemingly simple hand gestures evoke centuries of tradition. Her movements are steeped in messages both earthly and ethereal. And, through her work with Portland's Natya Leela Academy (8105 S.E. Belmont St.), she is bringing the traditions of South Indian Bharathanatyam dance into the public consciousness of the City of Roses and its neighboring communities.

In addition, Ganesan is a mainstay on local stages. She recently collaborated with traditional Japanese drum troupe Portland Taiko for a performance with Ten Tiny Dances - during which dancers perform on stages measuring four square feet - and this summer participated in her own Ten Tiny Dances show with fellow dancers Tassadit Chabouni and Nicole Sandleben.

On Nov. 11, 12 and 13 Ganesan will join Portland Taiko's Michelle Fujii and other choreographers for 'Devoted,' a performance combining Japanese, South Indian and contemporary dances. The show is sponsored by a Regional Arts and Culture Council Artistic Focus Project Grant.

Established in 2008, Natya Leela Academy is a leader in Portland specializing in Bhara-thanatyam, a traditional Tamil dance of South Indian origins with intense metaphysical and religious themes. Its intricate movements are at once delicate and athletic, and it's Ganesan's goal to bring the form to an unlikely audience: non-Indian dancers outside of Beaverton and Hillsboro, two hubs of Indian immigration.

'My big mission was to have a school that's accessible to the city,' says Ganesan, adding that she is the only performer of Indian descent at the school.

Through an intensive, 10-week introduction to Bhara-thanatyam, Ganesan - a 38-year-old native of Sri Lanka who relocated to the U.S. at age 18 - exposes newcomers to the dance by presenting it first as a form of personal expression, then detailing its historic and cultural significance.

'The general feeling is that people see there is a universal message to this dance form, even though it comes from a very, very different culturally and historically specific background,' Ganesan says. 'We all have emotions. We all have these stories to tell, and we have access to our bodies to tell them.'

Ganesan's cultural advocacy for Bharathanatyam extends well beyond the walls of her academy. Through a joint grant program with the Beaverton School District and Young Audiences, she visits Beaverton third-graders to help them translate their own poetry into dance movements.

Through her seemingly endless classes, performances and outreach, Ganesan says she is able to more fully immerse people into the art of Bharathana-tyam, bridging gaps between culture to speak to a universal theme of self-expression through movement.

To learn more about Subashini Ganesan and the Natya Leela Academy, visit www.natyaleela.com.