Yamini Kalluri, Riding High

Born in the US and raised in Hyderabad, Yamini Kalluri, who mastered the art of Kuchipudi under Late Padma Shri Dr. Sobha Naidu garu and Late Vempati Ravi Shankar, has now made New York her home and teaching her first love – Kuchipudi to enthusiasts and preserving Indian culture for future generations by establishing the Kritya Ensemble.  

The Kuchipudi dancer, Yamini Kalluri, who was in Hyderabad in January this year performed with the Kritya Ensemble, on the occasion of Sankranthi and won the hearts of the Rasikas at the Ravindra Bharathi auditorium. Renowned dancers Anupama Kylash and Yashoda Thakore were the distinguished guests to see her perform live. On April 8, Yamini and her team performed at the Happy Valley Performing Arts, Penn State University, US. Earlier, The Kritya Ensemble which was established in January 2022, has performed in the Irish Arts Festival, Manhattan, NY on June 11th, 2022, Mid-Ohio Valley Multicultural Festival, Parkersburg, WV on June 18th, 2022, and Geeva Arts Festival, Louisville, KY, July 10th, 2022.

On establishing of the Kritya Ensemble, Yamini says: “It was to restore the dance drama tradition where music and dance are an integral part in telling the powerful stories which change people’s lives. Dance is nothing without music and I actually dance for the love of music.” According to Yamini, in today’s world, everything is becoming individualistic and her aim is to revive the idea of collaboration which is the predominant principle in dance. “A dancer usually has a great command over music, drama, literature and aesthetics. A partnership would only empower us,” she says. 

Apart from Yamini, the Kritya Ensemble consists of Carnatic Vocalist Rohith Jayaraman, based in Seattle, Washington; Mridangam Artist Harsha Mandayam Bharathi, based in Columbus, Ohio; Bharatanatyam dancer and percussionist Vivek Ramanan in Rhode Island and Violinist Laya Raghav is in Cleveland, Ohio. The dancer says that the team has Dravidian roots and apart from practicing Carnatic Music and South Indian dance traditions, they have also spent time in learning Western classical music, jazz, Ballet, Modern dance and Contemporary dance to enthral the western audience. 

Giving an insight into the Kritya Ensemble, Yamini says: “We create work originating from ancient South Indian traditions which are rooted in spirituality and social themes. We also collaborate with other world traditions to expand the scope and vocabulary of Kuchipudi and Carnatic music.” On how the Ensemble functions, the Kuchipudi dancer states that the team based in different parts of the US, meets on Zoom and in New York to rehearse and create new pieces for performances and challenge norms irrelevant to the present day. “Every year we look forward to creating new original works and present them internationally,” she says.

Hailed by the New York Times and BBC as being a Kuchipudi sensation, Yamini, is also armed with a certification course in Kuchipudi from Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad with distinctions, and began teaching at Dr. Sobha Naidu’s school at the age of 12. Yamini shares that at the age of nine years, she was fortunate to see her teacher perform with her musical brindam to Devadevi’s Daruvu in Saindhavi Ragam from the Kuchipudi ballet, Vipranarayana, choreographed by Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam. And it was this that ignited the spark in her to dance to live music and create the Kritya Ensemble.

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