A GoPride Interview

Pranita Jain

Pranita Jain interview with ChicagoPride.com

Wed. October 26, 2011  by Michael J. Roberts

Pranita Jain

Michael J. Roberts interviews Pranita Jain, founder of Kalapriya Dance Co.

Pranita Jain, artistic director and founder of Kalapriya Dance Company discusses the importance of transcending Indian culture; how she got to dance with Shakira at the MTV Video Movie Awards and the importance of spirituality not only in dance but also in how people live their lives everyday.

MJR: How did you first get involved with dancing?

PJ: Well, it's such a long story. I was born in India and when I was a teenager my Mom put me in dance classes just like many other moms did with their children. But my teacher just happened to be the prima donna of the Indian dance world. So I grew up in that environment for eight or nine years.

MJR: What was your training like?

PJ: I had the strictest of training. It wasn't as simple as go to class and come back. It was all dependant on the teacher's mood. Sometimes you would have a fifteen-minute class other times you would have a four-hour class. She was the strictest as dance teachers go. So that is how I continued to learn until I migrated to the United States in 1985.

MJR: How did you handle moving to a totally different culture and environment?

PJ: Classical dance was all I knew when I moved to the States and it gave me my cultural identity. It kept me connected to India. I performed as a solo artist for a while but then I founded a company of three dancers. I started teaching dance, doing workshops and residencies. Out of that the Kalapriya organization grew.

MJR: What is the mission of Kalapryria?

PJ: Well, it started as a dance company and now we are moving toward and dance and music organization. We are promoting South Asian culture through dance and music.

MJR: What do you think the biggest misconception is that Americans have of Indian culture?

PJ: The perception used to be that is was a very exotic culture and I think Americans are becoming more aware that India embraces all cultures and influences and gives back an Indian essence to it.

MJR: Is that part of your vision of cross-cultural influences?

PJ: Absolutely! Within the south Asian continent, India is as multi-cultural and diverse as Europe. There are many languages, many different food and drinks; the way of dressing differs from region to region. Kalapriya's mission is to promote that cross-cultural influence.

MJR: Well, I have to ask you about how you met Shakira and got involved with the spectacular performance at the MTV Video Music Awards?

PJ: Kalapriya was rehearsing one of its upcoming self produced events in Chicago and I got a call from the W Hotel that one of its guests would like to come and see the performance. I told them they are more than welcome to come. They asked how much the ticket price was and I told them $15. They asked if we had anything more expensive than that and I told them "no, that was the most expensive." I didn't give it a second thought and never even asked who was coming. I left it to someone else to deal with it. Well, it ended up being Shakira. During intermission she came backstage and said that she is doing something for MTV. She then asked if we knew what MTV was (laughing). I said of course I know MTV. She said she would like to learn some Indian dance for her upcoming performance on the VMA's. So two days later she had us follow us her on tour from Toronto to Washington to New York. She is just such a lovely person.

MJR: That must have done wonders for Kalapriya giving it a national forum such as MTV?

PJ: It was wonderful that it gave us a national forum and international fame. Newspapers in India loved that story.

MJR: What is your rehearsal process like for your upcoming show ‘Timeless Traditions'?

PJ: Well Michael, this is where we are so different from any other dance company. Where most non-Indian dance companies are warming up and stretching, with my dance company I work very hard for them to stay still, to be quiet, and to put themselves together. Most of my dancers have studied dance for over eight or nine years so they have their own vocabulary. So it is about putting the vocabulary together.

MJR: Do you think Indian dancing is somehow more spiritual than other forms of dancing?

PJ: I think all artists and art forms are spiritual. The artist gives so much of himself or herself to the art that it almost becomes meditative. I wouldn't say it is more spiritual but I would say it is more ritualistic.

MJR: What can we expect to see in ‘Timeless Traditions"?

PJ: It is to share the tradition of Indian dance and music. I am trying to make a statement that one does not have to be of Indian decent to be practicing traditional Indian art forms. For example, the two solo artists, Lyon Leifer and Rahul Neuman are from the United States and I am from India, yet we practice the same traditions. My dancers are from here as well. We want to make sure that the tradition will continue in its purity. We have maintained its purity over here.

MJR: What do you think of the popularity of Bollywood recently?

PJ: Bollywood gives one side of India, which only exists in people's dreams. India is not Bollywood. With Bollywood there is no technique to it. It is easy entertainment whereas classical arts require someone to be calm and centered to enjoy it. Bollywood on the other-hand is an example of the frenzy that we are living. In one sense it is the exact opposite but on the other hand, the way the dancers use their eyes and hands can be similar. All arts in India are based on the classics. Indian art is very inter-disciplinary. It is all about the emotions.

MJR: What would you like an audience member who has never seen Indian dance or music to come away with after seeing ‘Timeless Traditions'?

PJ: Grace and quietude. I'm not preaching but I am immigrant who is an American citizen of Indian decent. That is what my art gives me and that is what I want to share with the audience.

Kalapriya Dance Company will present ‘Timeless Tradtions: An Evening Of Classical Music and Dance" on Thursday, November 10, 2011 at Northeastern Illinois University, Fine Arts Recital Hall, 5500 N. St. Louis, Chicago, IL. For more information, including tickets, please visit www.kalapriya.org. To view Shakira performing with the Kalapriya Dance Company on the MTV Video Music Awards, please visit kalapriya.org/PAGES/video5.html

Interviewed by Michael J. Roberts. Michael J. Roberts is theatre editor for the ChicagoPride.com covering Chicago's diverse arts and entertainment scene.