How Do You Move a Cloud?

by Nadhi Thekkek ~ September 11th, 2014

By Shanti Ramrattan (Company Dancer)

It’s been a year-and-a-half journey for me as a performer with the Nava Dance Theatre, and every moment thus far has been an event-filled dancer’s dream.  In-depth rehearsals, constantly evolving items, the birth of new characters, re-envisioned music…and a company of the most dedicated, talented artists committed to showing up and doing, growing, being together week after week.  And recently, amidst all the whirlwind of production frenzy that (in the end at least) is the very satisfying nature of a performance, I had the opportunity to stop and be a spectator of The Cloud Messenger.

What I saw, and what I felt, was a rediscovery of what it means to be alive.

Let me explain.  When my niece and nephew were born, I suddenly fell into the world in a powerfully revitalized way.  I re-became curious and interested.  As they explored and discovered the world around them, I was discovering anew…probing, questioning, being delighted by and wondering at things that had surrounded me all my life, but which I’d allowed to grow monochrome in the background of my ever-existent To-Do-list life.

Witnessing the journey of the Cloud, I felt that selfsame magic upon me.  I ‘saw’ mountains from roots to peak, rivers flowing their meditative flow, lotuses blooming forth like Nature’s cheerleaders, and the perkiest peacock dance of all peacock-kind for the first time -  again.  But more than that, I experienced the allowance of enchantment. Through the eyes of the Cloud, I gave myself permission to notice – really notice the beauty of things in their essence.

When was the last time you contemplated the star-spangled evening sky?  Or gazed at a school of fish darting about like synchronized swimmers in their grand Olympic routine?  Or better yet, took in the aura of a person tumbling into love for the very first time?

Kalidasa’s poem Meghadutam, is a work of simple genius.  It takes a humanesqe character, and charges him with the task of persuading a non-human, yet sentient, being to deliver a message of burgeoning love.  Any of us who have been in the throes of love’s magic knows what an indisputably urgent message this is.  But how do you express this urgency…To A Cloud?  How do you move It?  Incite that empathy? Convey the preciousness, the timeliness of an emotion so singular, so special it has launched wars and inspired the creation of World Wonders?

Our Yaksha hero takes the approach of enticement.  You will see wonders, he explains.  You will mesmer in the grandness of mountains, marvel at the sensation of a single raindrop.  You will absorb the world around you into the definition of your existence, and be the happier for it.

And it works…for Cloud and for me. Nava’s artists breath life into this revelation and as our Cloud character explores the world, I do vicariously as well.  I witness It’s journey into the jungle and think…I want to do that.  I watch It pet the feathers of a bird and think of how eminently pettable birds are.  I want to stand in the rain and feel the drops melt onto my face.  As the Cloud awakens to the aliveness of existence, I too awaken to what it means to feel alive.

And in exquisite poetic harmony, just as I am learning my world again in full-color newness through the Cloud’s experience, I witness It’s growing understanding of what it means to feel love vicariously through the palpable emotion of our Yaksha Hero.  Mission accomplished.

If there is any message that the Cloud delivers it is this one…that there is so much that is wonder-able about the human experience.  So much to discover, explore, experience in your own backyard, with the people that surround you every day.  With the person sitting next to you right this moment.   With Nava’s vibrant new dance production happening just a short drive away, this very weekend :).  Don’t sleep on these chances to evoke and awaken the resounding joy housed right within your spirit.  Our newly-humanized Cloud wouldn’t.

How does one move a Cloud Spirit?  Simple…allow yourself to be moved and It will follow.


Shanti studies Bharatanatyam under Smt. Katherine Kunhiraman and studied with the late Sri. KP Kunhiraman at Kalanjali Dances of India. She performed her Arangetram in 2003, and continues to perform in Kalanjali dance productions. She started dancing with Nava more than a year ago. See Shanti, and all the Nava Dancers in The Cloud Messenger, this weekend at CounterPulse.


A New Way Home

by Nadhi Thekkek ~ September 9th, 2014

By Sophia Valath (co-Artistic Director)

I have had a few experiences in my life where I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I signed up for it…the kind of decisions that you make almost on a whim. The ones you say ‘yes’ to not because you’ve necessarily thought it through, but because an internal whisper, or some times an external voice, is pushing you in that direction. These experiences change you forever in the most unexpected and best kind of ways.

A few years ago, my two childhood best friends (Nadhi and Arun) and I found ourselves back in California after college, work and life had taken us in different directions across the country. The three of us had grown up dancing and performing Bharatanatyam (South Indian classical dance) together and even though we continued to pursue dance in our own ways, we truly missed dancing together. One night in the midst of stuffing our faces, laughing about old jokes and reminiscing about dancing and we finally said, “That’s it guys! We’re doing a program together.” The rest of the evening was followed by discussions of dances we all knew, pieces we would love to perform, costumes that would look good together and strategizing ways to offset my shortness next the tallness of my dancing partners in crime. It was the kind of night that breathes life into dreams. We were overwhelmed with hope and excitement and completely ignorant of the challenges that would arise with this decision. You see, what the three of us did not know that night was that by saying ‘yes’ to doing a program together, we were also saying ‘yes’ to the creation of Nava Dance Theatre.

dancing as kids

the good ol’ days

More than a dozen collective performances and two years Nava has taken me away from many things I know. It challenged me to go outside of my comfort zone to explore elements of Bharatanatyam that had previously only been after thoughts in my dancing. It forced me to reassess not just how I dance, but why I dance. It encouraged me to play with the elements of dance and performance that move me and apply them to our choreography. It has grown my appreciation for all types of art. It has allowed me to find beauty in everything, even the things I don’t like. It has been days of self-doubt. It has been one humbling situation after another. It has been moments of failure, followed by small successes that keep us going. It provided new perspective. It resulted in the loss of some relationships and the strengthening of others. It has been the beginning of many new partnerships.

From top: Arun, Sophia, and Nadhi (2012)

One of the most significant of these partnerships is through CounterPulse. Simply put, CounterPulse provided Nava with the resources and encouragement during our infancy to help us find our voice when it would have been easier to stay silent. In the black box space of 1310 Mission Street, Nava truly found a home and those walls became the birth place of our first full length production, The Cloud Messenger. The time I spent there with the rest of the Nava dancers is a kaleidoscope of images and feelings that will forever run through my mind when I think about The Cloud Messenger…

Hours of practice. Bursts of laughter during warm ups. Run through after run through. Injuries. Seven breathtakingly beautiful dancers in orange dance saris taking the stage for our Work In Progress showing. Hugs hello and namaskarams goodbye. Critique after critique. The sound of our nattuvagam starting rehearsals. Setting choreography and scratching it a few days into a new dance, only to come back to the same concepts months later. Smiles and excitement before performances. Tears of frustration when the unexpected happens. Back stage quick changes. Nerves. Finding our inner peacock. The feeling after our final bows in last year’s Performing Diaspora Festival. The anticipation of next week’s production. Love…

Nava Dance Theatre at the Ethnic Dance Festival. From left: Jaya, Vidya, Arun, Nadhi, Priya, Shanti, Tanu, Sophia (not pictured - Sri, Vineela, Esha)

Nava Dance Theatre at the Ethnic Dance Festival. From left: Jaya, Vidya, Arun, Nadhi, Priya, Shanti, Tanu, Sophia (not pictured – Sri, Vineela, Esha)

So although Nava has taken me in a direction I never thought I would go, in so many ways it has also brought me home. And despite the challenges I am grateful for everything Nava has brought into my life, for all the days I am blessed to perform and the chance to fall love with dance all over again.

Sophia learned Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of Smt. Sundara Swaminathan. In addition to the productions and performances she has participated in at Kala Vandana, she has toured the US while performing with Bhangra Empire, an award winning, premiere Bhangra team based in the Bay Area. Sophia and Nadhi co-founded Nava Dance Theatre. See their work, “The Cloud Messenger” this weekend at CounterPulse.


The Cloud Messenger – Review Revise Rework

by Nadhi Thekkek ~ August 14th, 2014

We are back! I am so thrilled that Nava Dance Theatre is going to present The Cloud Messenger at CounterPULSE this year through year 2 of the Performing Diaspora residency program. The evening length version of The Cloud Messenger, to be premiered September 11th-14th at CounterPULSE (1310 Mission St) will feature new original musical score, new original choreography, new dancers, and new costumes. The piece will be directed by Sophia and myself, and will be choreographed by Sophia, Arun, and myself. The original score is composed by renowned flautist GS Rajan (

Revisiting the work started with retreat-like work sessions in February of this year. This meant reviewing the four main pieces from last year and revisiting the overarching narrative that strung these pieces together. So of course, we went back to the text (and a few different translations of it!)



Sophia, Arun, and I had a very specific vision in mind for the additional pieces, but the tricky part was that we were scattering the new pieces throughout the old work. Our goal was to increase the depth of the characters through the new choreography. However, this meant that the new music needed to fit in seamlessly within the score Rajan sir had composed last year. Thankfully, he was up for the task.

GS Rajan - Nava Dance

GS Rajan at work…

Much like last year, we spent a couple days discussing the narrative and the theme of each new piece. Then, Sophia, Arun, and I would set some movement which was inspired by the text, and then Rajan sir would play some phrases in raagams which he felt matched our sentiment. There was some (or a lot) of back and forth until all of us were completely satisfied with the outcome. (Sometimes Rajan sir danced too…)


Nadhi, Rajan, and Sophia at CounterPULSE

In the next few posts, I will talk more about the individual pieces, the different lines from the text that inspired us, and lastly, what innovation has meant to us while developing this work. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with these…


Arun, Rajan, Sophia, and Nadhi


Nadhi and Sindhu

The Cloud Messenger

Premiering Sept 11-14 @ CounterPULSE

Music Composition by GS Rajan

Directed by Nadhi Thekkek and Sophia Valath

Choreography by Nadhi, Sophia, and Arun Mathai

Musicians: Sindhu Natarajan (vocal), GS Rajan (flute), MS Sukhi (mridangam), Kali Futnani (nattuvangam)

Dancers: Nadhi, Sophia, Arun, Jaya Kurian, Esha Nambiar, Shanti Ramrattan, Sri Jannapureddy, Priya Sreedharan, Tanu Sreedharan, Vidya Sundaram, Vineela Poddatoori


Pride and Polaroids: a review of Homo File by Cleo Dubois

by seth ~ July 26th, 2014

Here is a moving article about Homo File by BDSM educator, coach, scholar and advocate Cleo Dubois. What an honor to have had her come see the show two times and to have participated on our panel discussion on June 6th.



Transition announcement from Jessica Robinson Love and the Board of CounterPulse

by Jessica ~ July 16th, 2014

From Jessica Robinson Love,
Executive & Artistic Director

Dear colleagues, artists, supporters, and friends,

I could scarcely have imagined when I ascended the long stairs at 848 Community Space fourteen years ago to become its sole staff member, that “the little space that could” would become a bustling professional theater and a nationally-recognized model for building community through socially-engaged art.

CounterPulse is thriving. We have a visionary and strategic board of directors, a dedicated and experienced staff, a financial reserve that’s rare for an organization of our size, and a real estate partnership with the Community Arts Stabilization Trust that provides tremendous opportunity toward long-term security.

That’s why after fourteen years at the helm of CounterPulse, I’m preparing to pursue new professional challenges. On October 1st, I’ll step aside so that the organization can begin a new chapter under new leadership. I’ve carefully chosen this time after months of planning in consultation with our board and staff, to coincide with several major benchmarks we’ll reach in September in our journey toward securing a permanent home.

I’m thrilled that our Program Director, Julie Phelps, has agreed to serve as Interim Executive & Artistic Director and support the organization and community through this transition. Julie and I have worked side-by-side for seven years, and she did a remarkable job serving as interim leader during my sabbatical in 2012. I have boundless faith in her aptitude to lead the organization during this transition. Under her leadership and with the partnership of Shamsher Virk, Jeanne Pfeffer, Zoë Klein, and Jason McArthur, CounterPulse’s programming will continue to be vibrant, relevant and responsive to our communities of artists and audiences.

CounterPulse has been my life’s work. I’m particularly proud of building Performing Diaspora, of overseeing a successful move to Mission Street 10 great years ago, and of helping create a strategic plan that enshrines support for artists, social change, and equity in the heart of what we do. Of course, none of this would have been possible without visionary funders who have supported this work, a superhero board, the world’s best staff, and the countless hours of sweat equity that our communities have put in over many years. While I’ll miss being at the center of this incredible hub of art, ideas, and people, I plan to remain involved as a lifelong advocate for CounterPulse and as a champion for the move into its beautiful new home.

But I’m not gone yet! We have much to accomplish in the next three months, and I’ll be calling on all of you to join me in further securing the organization’s future as we launch an amazing fall season and get ready for the big move.

See you soon at CounterPulse!

Jessica Robinson Love


From Laura Elaine Ellis,
Board Chair

As a board — so proud to be serving CounterPulse — it is with deep gratitude and dedicated support that we bid our current Executive & Artistic Director, Jessica Robinson Love, best wishes as she begins her next journey. She is truly a visionary and she will forever be a part of the CounterPulse legacy!

This is an extraordinary time for CounterPulse. We recently completed a strategic plan for this organization, guided by our mission to create a space for risk-taking art that shatters assumptions and builds community. The planning and implementation of CounterPulse’s impactful work — led by Jessica — has been dutifully and passionately shared and nurtured with keen, “hands-on” involvement of the staff and board. During her tenure, Jessica has overseen a 10-fold budget increase, built a financial reserve, and set CounterPulse up for long-term sustainability by forging a partnership with the Community Arts Stabilization Trust to finance its new home at 80 Turk Street. The organization has never been stronger, and this is an exciting time for us to welcome new leadership. As we enter this next phase for CounterPulse, the board is pleased that Julie Phelps — current Program Director — will serve as our Interim Executive & Artistic Director beginning October of 2014.

The CounterPulse family of staff and board — supported by and serving artists, members, donors, and funders — looks to the future of CounterPulse readily, as we prepare to make a bold and strategic move to our new home at 80 Turk Street. As part of this vision, it is our desire to expand our impact and potential, delve more deeply into our commitment to community engagement and artistic incubation by building an art-making space that will nurture the imaginations, experiences, and explorations of artists, community members, and audiences. We’ve been presented with tremendous opportunities: a stable real estate solution, a space that will allow for expanded programming, and new partnership opportunities with peer arts organizations, social justice nonprofits, corporate neighbors, and city government. We are thrilled that Jessica will continue to support the CounterPulse family as we celebrate our ground-breaking, capital campaign launch, and risk-taking programming in our new space!

Our board and staff will be in touch with our community of artists, art lovers and supporters, as we thoughtfully and diligently work, create, and build toward this next phase of our journey. Please feel free to contact the Transition Committee with suggestions, ideas, inquiries, and gestures of support at Your thoughts are most welcome.

Our mission:
CounterPulse is building a movement of risk-taking art that shatters assumptions and builds community. We provide space and resources for emerging artists and cultural innovators, serving as an incubator for the creation of socially relevant, community-based art and culture. CounterPulse acts as a catalyst for art and action; creating a forum for the open exchange of art and ideas, sparking transformation in our communities and our society. We work towards a world that celebrates diversity of race, class, cultural heritage, artistic expression, ability, gender identity & sexual orientation. We strive to create an environment that is physically and economically accessible to everyone.

In September, the CounterPulse family will be hosting a celebration for Jessica Robinson Love, honoring her tenure and service to CounterPulse and the Bay Area arts community at large. Look for an invitation to that special event in the near future.

Looking Forward,

Laura Elaine Ellis, Board President
On behalf of the CounterPulse Board of Directors