Oregon Folklife Network

Jayanthi Raman

2015-2016 / 2018-2019 TAAP AWARDEE

Traditional Skill/Art Craft: Bharatha Natyam Indian Dance

Ethnic Background: Indian

2015 Apprentice: Bakul Godbole

2018 Apprentice: Asha Pantula

Describe your traditional skill/craft/art, when and why it is done, and your history with it.

I am a practitioner, teacher and choreographer of the classical Indian dance Bharatha Natyam for past four decades. I started performing since my childhood years and teaching since my teenage years. My move to the US, Portland brought me into a new realm twenty years ago. I worked hard to establish as a serious traditional artist never compromising my art form and maintaining its purity and authenticity yet I was creative enough within the boundaries to be dubbed as a contemporary performer and choreographer by the national press. Teaching is my passion and I firmly believe that the generosity of a teacher is the only way an oral art form like classical dance can survive and prosper, preserved for future generations. I was the first artist in my genre to receive awards for my work over the years. Although accolades such as ‘cultural treasure’, ‘gold standard of Indian dance in the Northwest’ and ‘scholar’ etc., are rewarding; my true passion still is teaching the next generation of young dancers locally and continuing this tradition for future generations.

How and from whom was the tradition learned?

I had the good fortune and honor of learning from renowned Guru of Indian classical dance in India, since I was four years old from Guru J. Venkatachalapathy of Kalakshetra and continued later under Guru Adayar Lakshman who is considered synonymous with the art form. He not only is a scholar of dance but also a renowned musician, who has students all over the world. In addition to dance, he is well versed in the theory, percussion, and history of dances, which he generously shares with his students. He has received the highest titles and awards for his contribution to the field of classical dance in India. I studied dance and music for 14 years under his guidance and then started teaching at his institution. I had the fortune of staying in Gurukulam for a year to study the art form in depth from him. The traditional method of teaching in India is the Gurukula system (Guru – Teacher, Kula – Family). The Gurukula system involved living with the teacher, as if the student was part of the family. Studying this art is part of an oral tradition. Education is a dynamic process, imbibed through living, traveling with the Guru (teacher).

Why is this cultural tradition important to your community?

Requiring many years of training before a dancer is ready to perform; Bharatha Natyam is an art form that relies heavily on the teacher-student bond in preserving and perpetuating the accumulated knowledge of the part. The dance is passed down through generations from teacher to student, without a formal notation, as the nuances are only appreciable and learnt be seeing the master artist perform. For Indians, this dance and music is part of our everyday lives, as it is intertwined with the social customs and festivals celebrated. I have been practicing the art form in lifelong pursuit, and the apprentice not only learns the art form, but also its history and value in its cultural aspect and significance in the overall tradition in India. The tradition of this art can then be passed on to younger generation in the East Indian community and to the general public through performances.

Artist Biography

Performer, choreographer and master teacher of classical Indian dance Bharatha Natyam Jayanthi Raman is acclaimed as "cultural treasure," "world class dancer," "scholar," and "Gold Standard of Indian dance in the Northwest" over four decades. She has performed and toured extensively in US and internationally, reaching wide audiences, some who had never seen this genre of art. In addition to teaching at her school Natya, she has served as Assistant Professor of dance at Portland State University, the first Indian dance faculty in Northwest. She is the author of two acclaimed books on Indian dance. She has presented lectures and master classes across the nation, including at University of Washington, Reed College, George Washington University, University of Vermont, Central Washington University, and others.

Jayanthi is the recipient of Oregon Arts Commission's Fellowship (2015) and the seven-time recipient of the Traditional Master Artist award from State of Oregon (1996, 2015, 2018) and State of Washington (2003, 2005, 2009, 2010). She was nominated for NEA National Heritage Fellowship (2017) and the USA Fellowship award (2018). She has received grants, awards and honors as the first artist of her genre, including National Dance Project –NEFA-NDP (first Bharathanatyam dancer in the world) funded by Doris Duke Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, American Library Association, and Oregon Council for Humanities. She has choreographed over 30 full-length dances and 600 individual and group works, covering traditional as well as social themes, including immigration and women's rights. Her dance company has performed at Symphony Space-New York, Flynn-Vermont, Lied-Nebraska, Rialto-Atlanta, Wortham-Houston, Schnitzer-Portland, UW World Series-Seattle, Listner-Washington DC, and elsewhere.

In her own words, "For Indians, this dance and music is part of our everyday lives, as it is intertwined with the social customs and festivals celebrated."

Experience/Honors

Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship award 2015 (first artist in her genre)

Nominated for the NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award 2017

Nominated for the USA Fellowship Award 2018

Author of two books on Indian dance published May 2015, sold over 250 books locally and online Amazon

Traditional Master Artist Award for excellence in teaching, for Seven years– four years honored as an out of state artist from Washington State Arts Commission and three years from UO Oregon Folklife program

Founder and Director of NATYA Dance Academy offering classes in Bharatha Natyam over 25 years with many graduates, and students advancing to professional performing and teaching

NEFA-NDP National Dance Project, for choreography – production and touring grants, (first artist of her genre in the world)

Assistant Professor of dance at Portland State University – first Bharatha Natyam faculty in the Northwest and first Indian dance faculty in Oregon

US National tours supported by grants from MAAF Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, NEA National Endowment for the Arts, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Westaf-Tourwest.

RACC Project grants (consistently recipient of Project Grant funding over 25 times in thirty years in Portland) as well as numerous Career Opportunity grants

Oregon Arts Commission numerous Professional Development grants

Only performer, choreographer and producer in the Northwest of her genre to have performed and toured nationally with rave reviews and full house audiences.

Choreographed and presented over 25 full length dance productions and over 150 solo works, performed over 2000 concerts in past four decades in US and internationally.

Only choreographer to have collaborated with leading dancers and musicians from India, with all seven classical Indian dance styles, including recent Chau dances

Collaborated with artists of multiple genres including Mac Arthur genius fellow, NYU faculty/ New York based drummer Dafnis Prieto, and Guggenheim Fellow – Jazz artist Chuck Israels, Modern and Ballet dancers

Arts Leadership Award for being a promoter and arts advocate from City of Beaverton and Beaverton Arts Commission

Invited as grant panelist to review peer Traditional Artists and Fellowship grants by RACC, Oregon Arts Commission and Illinois Arts Council

Performance reviews in Oregonian, Washington Post, DANCE Magazine, Atlanta Journal, Willamette Week, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times, Valley Times and national newspapers

Received the prestigious 'Creative Heights' grant from Oregon Community Foundation

Dubbed by public and peers as the 'Gold Standard of Indian dance in the Northwest'

Reviewed by local and national press as a 'scholar', 'world class dancer', 'dance maven', and 'region's best choreographer and performer of Indian classical dance'

Only artist of her genre featured in the book "Beauty is Experience: Dancing 50 and Beyond" by Emmaly Wiederholt featuring West Coast dancers