BHARATA NATYAM, the classical Indian dance form is a combination of the arts of the stage, music, poetry, color and rhythm. Such a rich cultural tradition requires years of discipline both mental and physical, hard work and dedication.
RAMYA HARISHANKAR brings to Bharata Natyam all these qualities enhanced by vigorous training under the best gurus: the late Swamimalai K. Rajaratnam who followed the traditional Vazhavoor style and was renowned for his musical and choreography skills and Kalanidhi Narayanan, one of the finest exponents and teachers of the art of Abhinaya, the art of expressing emotions. With over two decades of training, Harishankar combines the elegance, grace and suppleness of the Vazhavoor School with the distinctive ability to express all shades of emotion with sensitivity and intuition
2011 ended with a 3 city Tsunami relief tour of Japan by members of the Arpana Dance Company (ADC) with LA based Kinnara Taiko. Other highlights of the year were the continued tour of 2003 production Pancha Bhootam in the US and 5 nights at the prestigious South Coast Repertory of the 2005 production Ganga…life as a river. Ramya also conducted abhinaya workshops in Toronto, San Diego and Santa Barbara and at UC, Irvine. Both Pancha Bhootam and Ganga were presented at several US cities in 2008 -2010. In 2009, Ramya received Master Apprentice fellowship from the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA).
In 2007, Ramya received the Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy award from Arts OC, the county wide arts agency. More recently, her company received the LA Treasures award from the LA County Board of Supervisors and the California Traditional Music Society. Following a sold out 25th anniversary presentation at The Barclay in May, the Company completed a 6 city tour of India accompanied by LA based Kinnara Taiko. ADC was also named a LA Milestone Company by LA County Board of Supervisors and the Dance Resource Center. In 2005, Ramya and the ADC successfully premiered Ganga…Life as a River’ that explored the prose, poetry, legend and music referencing the river Ganga. This project was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) grant for Creativity as well as the Artists’ support grant from the Fund for Folk Culture. In 2003 she was named ‘Outstanding Artist of the Year’ in 2002 by Arts OC, the countywide arts organization in Orange County for her accomplishments. 2002 was a flagship year for Harishankar since it was the 20th anniversary of her school, Arpana (meaning offering in Sanskrit). Since her humble beginnings in 1982, over 300 students have been personally trained in this rigorous art form with more than 75 of them ‘graduating’ with their solo dance performances. Three productions, ‘Samarpan’, ‘Maya Manusha – the illusive One’ and ‘Woman Divine’, all to near sold out houses at The Barclay in Irvine marked this special milestone. Through her school, she has helped build artistic sensitivity, appreciation and understanding of cultural traditions in the community. Her students also acquired physical and mental discipline, strength of character and personalities that have held them in good stead through their college and working careers. Many of them have become torchbearers of the tradition and have been performing with the Arpana Dance Company (ADC) since its inception in 1985. ACTA recognized her dedication to the art form with grants under the Master-Apprenticeship (2001-2002/2010-2011) program. Harishankar is also a grantee (2001 & 2002) under the Traditional Folk Arts program of the California Arts Council (CAC).
The NEA had earlier awarded her the prestigious Choreographer’s Fellowship (93-97) in recognition of her skills. The ADC had been a recipient of the Multi Cultural Entry Grant from CAC for 12 years (1989-2001). As a performer/choreographer for over 25 years, Harishankar has over 15 full-length productions to her credit. Her productions have explored many cross-cultural themes collaborating with Japanese Taiko drummers, Flamenco dancers, Indo-American Jazz group and a Persian musical ensemble. Most of these, she chose to self-produce to raise moneys for charities. Over the years she has donated over $75000 to charities such as the American Red Cross, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the American Cancer Society, which recognized her Company with the Excalibur award in 1999. Through her solo performances and the Arpana Dance Company, Harishankar has communicated the aesthetics of this traditional art form to thousands of Orange County residents. In1996 the United India Association gave her the Excellence award for her contribution to the community.
Her dedication to creating a better multi cultural community has been supported by the Education Division of the Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC). As a roster artist of the ‘Arts Teach’ program since its inception in 1989, Harishankar has been sharing her art in a very unique way with the children of the schools in the County. Disney Resorts included her as one of nine featured artists in 2002 for their neighborhood school districts. More recently, she is amongst the 12 artistes chosen for a 5 pilot program ‘Arts Connect’ by the OCPAC and Columbia University to study the importance of arts education. She also works on similar programs through the Children’s Creative Project (Central California) and the Center for World Music (San Diego). Every year, over 3000 students were given an opportunity to witness traditional dances and music from India. She has been a guest instructor at University of California, Irvine and since 1993 has presented lecture demonstrations bi-annually at the San Diego State University
Her performing career spanning over 2 decades has taken her all over the world. Over the years she has also toured extensively in India, S. E. Asia, the Far East, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, Canada and the United States. She was one of the first Bharata Natyam artists on the Touring Artists Roster of the CAC.
In 1981 she was invited to perform at the prestigious Navaratri Mantapam in Trivandrum before the Maharani, the royal family and other special invitees. She also performed and toured the Varnam (centerpiece) in Guru Rajaratnam’s production celebrating the birth centenary of the renowned poet/patriot Subramanya Bharathi. In 1978 she was selected for the ‘outstanding young dancer series’ by Tamil Sangam, featured in the yearly series by Madras Music Academy and was awarded the title ‘Singar Mani’ by the Sur Singar Samsad, Mumbai. The crowning event was the performance at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan (the presidential residence) before Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, President Sanjeeva Reddy and other foreign dignitaries. In 1972, she played Rati in her guru’s interpretation of Kalidas’s Kumarasanbhava that went won the golden trophy at the Kalidas Samaroh in Ujjain. From 1970 through 1981 Ramya toured India extensively performing from Chandigarh to Trivandrum, Calcutta to Pune.
Ramya has served as a panelist at the National Endowment for the Arts, California Arts Council and World Arts West. Ramya is also a founder/board member of Ektaa Center (formerly known as Arpana Foundation) that has brought over 40 renowned Indian dancers/ musicians/companies to S. California audiences since 1989. The Center has received support from the California Arts Council, the Fund for Folk Culture and Arts Orange County as well as corporate foundations. A soulful singer, she was awarded the first prize in light classical category by the Madras Music Academy in 1978