Yamini Kalluri & the Carnatic Ensemble

Yamini Kalluri & the Carnatic Ensemble
Kuchipudi dance
New York City

As cultural traditions take root in diaspora communities, new connections between generations and cultures are both necessary and revitalizing. In New York City in 2019, acclaimed young dancer Yamini Kalluri, a master of the Kuchipudi dance of her Telugu forbearers, began a collaboration with the Carnatic Ensemble, an intergenerational trio of outstanding musicians of Tamil heritage. Their performance at the Lowell Folk Festival braids together these two strands of South Indian tradition into a spellbinding presentation of their shared heritage.

Kuchipudi dance is named for the village where it originated in the state of Andhra Pradesh. One of India’s nine classical dance forms, Kuchipudi emerged out of the ancient tradition of Hindu dance-dramas called yakshagaana. For three centuries, Kuchipudi was an ensemble form featuring male dancers; modern Kuchipudi crystalized nearly a century ago with the introduction of a solo dance tradition and the training of female dancers. Among Kuchipudi’s signature elements is its emphasis on dexterity and vigor, exemplified by a final act danced upon the rim of a brass plate.

At just 22, Yamini Kalluri has already established herself as a brilliant Kuchipudi performer, choreographer, and teacher. Born in the United States, Kalluri grew up in Hyderabad, India, where she began studying Kuchipudi dance at age seven. The form, known for its heightened used of abhinaya (expression), was a perfect outlet for Yamini. She was only 12 when her guru, the famed Padmasri Dr. Sobha Naidu, honored her talent by elevating her to the role of teacher. Yamini Kalluri has performed across India, England, and North America, and now lives and teaches in New York City.

As a dance form devoted to graceful and theatrical storytelling, Kuchipudi depends upon the skillful interplay between dancer and singer, with Carnatic percussion and melody instruments tying everything together. Vocalist Shaaranya Pillai deftly renders these traditional epic dramas with a nuance and emotional clarity immediately accessible to modern audiences. Bala Skandan plays the mridangam and has been noted by the New York Times for his superb musical accompaniment. This defining instrument of Carnatic music double-headed, barrel-shaped drum undergirds the music’s complex rhythmic structure. The skillful playing of young violin master Parthiv Mohan completes the Carnatic Ensemble.

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