Artistic Staff

Hema Rajagopalan

Founder and Artistic Director

Hema Rajagopalan is the Founder and Artistic Director of Natya Dance Theatre, an organization that specializes in performing and teaching Bharatanatyam, the dance-theatre of India. Natya Dance Theatre recently celebrated its 47th anniversary this year. Hema is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer of international repute, committed to preserving Bharatanatyam in its full integrity, developing the art form in new directions and bringing it to diverse audiences.

Hema has performed as a soloist at prestigious festivals and venues throughout the world, receiving critical acclaim. Noteworthy among them are the Avignon festival in France, the Edinburgh Festival in the U.K , The Festival of India in the U.S, The Festival of India at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, and the Field Museum in Chicago, the Music and Dance festival in Chennai, and other music and dance festivals in major cities in India. Noteworthy venues being Mandapa in Paris, the NCPA in Mumbai, India, and the India International Center in Delhi. Her gurus are some of the foremost figures in Bharatanatyam: Padma Shri awardee Shri K. N. Dandayudapani Pillai and Padma Bhushan awardee Smt. Kalanidhi Narayanan.

Amongst the many prestigious awards that Hema has received are an Emmy Award for the PBS production of World Stage Chicago, seven National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Awards (the highest number ever received by any American choreographer), and, in India, the Vishwa Kala Bharathi Award for artistic excellence. In 2004, she was the first choreographer working in an Indian movement tradition to be selected by the Chicago Dancemakers Forum to create new work, and was also honored by the Bhairavi Fine Arts Society and Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana with the Nritya Seva Mani (Devotee of Dance) Award: Hema is the first US-based dancer to receive this award. In 2011, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Soorya Dance Festival in St. Louis. In 2021, she was awarded the highly acclaimed Dance Legacy Award , by See Chicago Dance recognizing her immense contributions to the dance field at large.

!n 2022, the Women’s L Project named all the Chicago L stations, recognizing 141 strong women of influence, creativity and courage. Hema Rajagopalan was given this incredible honor as she was named at the Harrison Station in Chicago; and shares this distinction amongst many other distinguished luminaries, such as Michelle Obama, Jane Byrne, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ruth Page, Betty Ford, Mahalia Jackson, and Oprah Winfrey. Most recently, Natya Dance Theatre was recognized as one of Chicago’s Cultural Treasures; one of 40 prestigious organizations in the Chicagoland area so honored.

Scores of students trained under Hema have distinguished themselves as performers, teachers and choreographers. Her teaching accolades include the Master Teacher Award from the Asian American Heritage Council and the Master Teacher Award from the City of Chicago. She has served as a dance panelist with the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Illinois Arts Council, and other state arts agencies. Hema has been appointed by the Canadian government to assess Bharatanatyam dance training programs. and also conducts workshops and master classes at colleges and universities throughout the country.

Hema strongly feels that, as an artist, her task is to produce not only aesthetically pleasing performances, but also to consider her responsibilities as a citizen of the world. She is deeply influenced by the evolving cultural environment around her, and uses her art to foster cross-cultural understanding and social harmony. As a choreographer, she has created numerous short works, as well as over fifty evening-length productions that have toured to leading national and international venues.

Krithika Rajagopalan

Co-Artistic Director

Krithika Rajagopalan, performer, teacher and choreographer, began her dance training under her Gurus Smt. Hema Rajagopalan and Padma Bhushan Kalanidhi Narayanan. She has trained in Yoga, Kalari Payattu and also has certifications in both Gyrotonic and Pilates. Krithika is Co-Artistic Director of and Principal Dancer of Natya Dance Theatre . She has presented solo and ensemble performances at prestigious venues all over the world, including the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the Music and Dance Festival of Madras, India, and the National Centre for Performing Arts in Bombay, to name a few.

Highlights of her performance engagements include the honor of performing for President Bill Clinton, original commissioned performances with acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, the World Music Institute NY, and working in collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Lookingglass Theatre to create MainStage productions. Natya Dance Theatre has just celebrated 47 years of dance in Chicago, and Krithika hopes to continue this artistic legacy.

Krithika’s dance and choreographic credits include solos, residencies, master classes, curated curriculums for colleges and universities , as well as full productions. She has worked on collaborations with other music and dance genres on cross-cultural theatre stages, produced and written scripts for dance theatre, and continues to create awareness and accessibility for Bharatanatyam internationally. She was recognized with awards such as the Illinois Arts Council Master Teacher Award, and the Jerome Foundation Residency, as she was chosen to be the Artist in Residence at The Doris Duke Foundation in Shangri-La. In the past 10 years, she has participated in, curated, and produced multiple dance productions and conferences internationally as she continues to present on global stages.

Krithika sustains her passion to innovate art that strives to bring social awareness to the environment, global communities, and people, while staying true to the integrity of Bharatanatyam. Krithika incorporates her 33 years of experience to focus on developing a strong, holistic, healthy dancer curriculum, that supports each phase of learning. She continues to be a life learner and is extremely passionate about bringing Bharatanatyam to the next generation of audiences and torchbearers.