Artistic Director Hema Rajagopalan spent her youngest years in Chennai. At the age of six she began to learn bharata natyam under Guru Swarna Saraswati, a heritage practitioner from the devadasi tradition. An unusually instinctive learner, Hema was invited to present her first arangetram after just six months of study in 1956. She later continued her studies under Padma Sri Awardee K.N. Dandayudapani Pillai in Chennai and his brothers K.N. Pakkirswamy Pillai, and K.N. Dakshinamoorthy Pillai in Delhi. She presented her second arangetram at age nine.
By the age of ten, Hema had been celebrated by critics several times over and was touring the country in regular performances. She developed into a consummate performer, and Hema continued to deepen her study in abhinaya, the art of histrionic expression, under the tutelage of Padma Bhushan Awardee Kalanidhi Narayanan in the early 80’s.
When she arrived in Chicago in 1975, Hema was prepared to begin a new life. Yet, dance would not leave her. Hema Rajagopalan found herself amongst a very small number of people from the Indian community, who were unaware of their own rich, cultural heritage. She performed once and was was requested to begin teaching in order to connect young children with their own heritage. Thus began her journey in imparting training to a small number of children out of her living room. Four decades later, this homespun operation has evolved into Natya Dance Theatre – a professional Company and training Academy, internationally recognized for its integrity in tradition and innovation in its choreography.
Natya Dance Theatre preserves and perpetuates bharata natyam in all its classical rigor whilst moving the art form in innovative directions to foster cultural exchange through dance. Natya’s contemporary interpretations incorporate dynamic body movement, rhythmic footwork, hand gestures and facial expressions to convey meaning and emotion that create Rasa, the aesthetic experience that transforms the audience. Its four pillars are Performing Company, Teaching Academy, Community Outreach, and a Presenting Series.