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.
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.
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…
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.