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Jyotsna Vaidee: Dancer Uses Traditional Indian Artform to Bring Awareness to Current Social Issues

A woman sitting on the floor, wearing a traditional Indian clothing, in a dance stance.

This article originally appeared on Calgary Arts Development here on June 20, 2022.

What is creativity if not a medium to express one’s uniqueness? For Jyotsna Vaidee, an award-winning Bharatnatyam dancer, the question hits home. She readily answers, “Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.”

Bharatanatyam is an ancient form of classical dance originating from southern India that features sophisticated footwork and gestures, along with expressive music and poetry. Traditionally linked to interpretive narration of Hindu spiritual ideas and legends, the dance has evolved to include non-religious themes told through solo or group performances.

This art form takes many years to master — Vaidee has immersed herself in Bharatnatyam for over 25 years and continues her journey with gusto. A computer engineer by education, and currently working at Google, she blends skills from both her careers. In 2018, Vaidee founded the dance company Samudra Dance Creations to produce innovative Bharatanatyam performances. “I receive the most joy when I am able to share creative thoughts and bring those to life,” she says. “The mission of Samudra Dance Creations is to create original socially relevant dance works.”

Vaidee now works with an ensemble of dancers who bring dynamism and synergy to each production, including commissioning original music and poetry as part of the process. This has enabled Samudra to explore Bharatnatyam as a way of creating awareness about environmental and social justice issues. In 2019, Vaidee and her team toured Canada with a flagship 75-minute dance work called The Earth Speaks, a story told through the voice of a woman (as a metaphor for the Earth) to raise awareness for climate change. The performance was so well received in Calgary that Samudra planned a return in 2020, but had to cancel due to pandemic restrictions.

Undeterred, Samudra premiered a new dance film titled Storm last year that addresses difficult questions around equality. “Storm is an exploration of human identity, the push and pull of the sense of belonging with others versus differences with others; the micro-oppressions that start a chain reaction,” Vaidee says. “The inner storm rages — some of us let our inner monsters out. The force of love or the force of monster — which one is going to win?”

While Samudra is based out of San Francisco, Vaidee plans to frequently bring productions to Calgary, where she has lived for many years with her family and still calls home. Her goal is to continue sharing her creativity in this community as a way to inspire Indian and mainstream audiences alike on social causes. “The arts are very powerful,” she says. “While science and news can highlight the facts, it is the performing arts that can bring out empathy for important social issues. When you make someone truly care about an issue, change happens.”

Vaidee and her team’s latest work on Storm can be viewed here.

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