“Because I have been a student of philosophy, mythology, and theology, I have found time and again that artistic expression, in all its forms, intersects these three fields. This is what has drawn me to art.”
— Ravi Tilak
Prana is breath, energy, consciousness. Often translated as ‘vital air’, prana defies definition. According to India’s ancient texts, the Upanishads, it is the underlying principle of life and is often equated to the soul. According to yoga guru, B.K.S. Iyengar, it is the energy permeating the universe at all levels – physical, mental, intellectual, sexual, spiritual, and cosmic.
In the Indian tradition, there are vast disciplines dedicated to healing and expanding prana including ayurveda, tantra and yoga. Unexamined for its profound power to awaken and animate prana, is nrittya or dance. According to kathak master and guru, Chitresh Das, prana must be the foundation and expression of dance. Kathak’s physical rigor, rhythmic precision, dynamic movement, sophisticated musicality and refined emotional expression place extraordinary demands on the dancer. As the dancer reaches to meet these demands in practice and performance, he or she taps into profound reservoirs of energy or prana within and beyond. This process is physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual and over time, it opens up a gateway for the dancer to connect with the divine.
Dance and Prana is a conversation that looks at how movement, rhythm, and music can awaken us and facilitate spiritual alchemy and transformation on an individual and collective level.
About the Speakers
About Rina Mehta
brings to the art form of kathak, classical dance of North India, a singular voice and vision. An artist and an entrepreneur, she displays on and off the stage her depth of training with legendary kathak master, Pt. Chitresh Das, an unshakeable grounding in tradition and a pioneering spirit. Described as “regal” and “brilliant” by critics, her performances and artistic work are paving a path forward for the legacy of Pt. Chitresh Das and kathak dance itself. Rina is a founding artist of the Leela Dance Collective, which brings together leading artists from around the world to advance a collective vision for kathak. Rina’s original works include SPEAK
, a kathak-tap collaboration; Son of the Wind
, the story of India’s mythological hero, Hanuman, brought to life through dance-drama, and others. She has received funding to create and tour her works by such institutions such as the National Endowment for the Arts, New Music USA, and the Zellerbach Family Fund. She has also received the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant and the prestigious Fulbright award for research in the effectiveness of kathak dance education as a social intervention in underprivileged communities in India. Rina’s most ambitious initiative is The Leela Endowment
, the first initiative of its kind, aimed at providing the financial infrastructure necessary to advance India’s rich artistic heritage.
About Ravi Tilak
Ravi Tilak is the Founder and President of Almex USA, Inc., the worldwide leader in metallurgical plants and process equipment supply, with partnerships and customers around the world. He is a phenomenal orator, linguist, and has 16 patents to his credit. He has also founded and led several non-profit organizations. A graduate of the India Institute of Technology Bombay, he has spent the last 30 years studying the ancient Indian literature relating to the mythology, theology and the sciences developing within the Hindu and Sufi paramparas and cultures. His analytical prowess is in seeking unity within the plurality of thoughts, beliefs and sciences. In addition to his work as CEO of Almex, his deep passion for the arts and their role in society has led him to become an avid philanthropist, an art benefactor and a lecturer on surfacing the hidden mysteries embedded within the performing arts. Says Mr. Tilak, “Funding art is equally important as funding food because they are the two things that give energy to the human existence – body and mind both”. Mr. Tilak is a generous supporter of Leela’s work to advance Indian classical dance and music onto the world stage. He lives with his wife in Orange, CA and is a proud father and grandfather.
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“Kathak Yoga makes an Ashtanga class look like child’s play”
— San Francisco Chronicle
Inspired by the saints of India, who would push physical and mental boundaries to attain liberation, Pandit Chitresh Das created the groundbreaking practice of kathak yoga. A unique and rigorous practice, kathak yoga requires the dancer to integrate mind, body, and spirit, with the aim of achieving pure oneness through the dance. Nothing exemplifies the connection between dance and prana more aptly than kathak yoga.
In kathak yoga, the dancer performs precise compositions through footwork while simultaneously reciting the underlying rhythmic structure, singing the corresponding melody, and playing an instrument such as tabla, harmonium or manjira. This practice is referred to as a type of yoga because of the way it brings the dancer into unison with oneself, one’s surroundings and a universal consciousness. Pandit Chitresh Das’ groundbreaking artistic work, Shabd (2007, San Francisco) exemplifies the power of kathak yoga as both practice and performance.
“What is not evident when Kathak Yoga is performed is the stamina, endurance and focus the dancer must have to be able to split one’s mind and balance all the elements.”
— Sandhya Sen, The Statesman (India)
About the Leela Endowment
A look at the infrastructure for classical dance and music in the West is instructive. Major cities across the United States boast acclaimed ballet companies, symphonies and operas, each supported by a large endowment and a strong community of donors. These endowments are a direct reflection of the value a community has placed on its artistic and cultural heritage. In stark contrast, while there are hundreds of Indian classical dance and music schools around the world, none of these are supported by a sustainable financial infrastructure. India’s national dance and music institutes, although supported by financial trusts, provide meager support and pale in comparison to the need in the field. The Leela Endowment is the first and only self-standing endowment for Indian classical dance and music. The goal of the endowment is to ultimately provide direct financial support to artists that are serving as tradition bearers and cultural ambassadors. The Leela Endowment is a joint initiative of The Leela Institute and the Chhandam School of Kathak. For more information on The Leela Endowment click here.