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About Deepa

Dr. Deepa Mahadevan is an artist scholar. She is a Bharatanatyam practitioner, researcher, teacher, choreographer, and curator. Her doctoral research in Performance studies the history of aesthetics in Bharatanatyam, through the vectors of caste, class, sexuality, gender and religion, between the 1930s till 2020.


She strives to explore, capture, and embody the potent energy of every emerging moment in a performance, setting it apart from pre-choreographed dances, which have significantly more predictable energy patterns. Her practice weighs heavily on improvisation and creating work 'with the audience' than 'at the audience.' She constantly strives to find space in her practice that celebrates spontaneity while dealing with uncertainty. Her research and method is excited about accepting any shift in an expected course of events as a prompt from the current moment to accept it and create with it. She is interested in exploring the continuum or the implicit dialog between a trained dancer’s body and the spontaneous dancer’s body.


More of my story

I have been a student of Bharatanatyam since I was five years old. I grew up in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, a city that has been the cultural hub of Bharatnatyam since the late nineteenth century. I learnt and practiced Bharatanatyam in an immersive setting. I was born into an upper caste family where learning Bharatanatyam was an important way to assimilate into high culture. Along with dance I was also trained in South Indian classical music commonly referred to as ‘Carnatic music’ and have working technical proficiency in this genre of music and its rich rhythmic base. I can speak, read and write in ‘Tamil’, the regional language of Tamil Nadu. I also have a professional working proficiency in Sanskrit and Hindi. I am a yoga practitioner. I learnt Kalari Payattu, a defense based, martial art form from Kerala that draws inspiration from low-lying animal movements.


Apart from abstract movements Bharatanatyam has within its idiom a highly sophisticated system of stylized theater, which opens up space for improvisational theater. This inclination to improvisational theater also led me to train in Play back theater. I have also been learning Odissi dance for more than  twelve years. Thus, I underwent training, was exposed in and assimilated these multiple disciplines both through formal modes and through immersive means as these disciplines thrived and co-existed seamlessly in Chennai - in the schools I attended, in the cultural ethos of the region and as common community knowledge. This training and access to these multiple disciplines find form in my teaching and my artistic creations.


As I teach students from all over the world I implicitly draw from my knowledge of language, music, rhythm, theater, body practices like Yoga and Kalari and my passion for improvisation to fortify my methods of transmission. It also allows my students to see the deep and vast technical knowledge and immersion that goes into realizing the potential of Bharatanatyam, which is always challenging to pass on in its entirety in a tertiary method of transmission. This gives the student the appreciation for a technically layered dance form like Bharatanatyam, on one hand and also keeps the student intrigued in Bharatanatyam’s multiple layers.

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