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‘The Nayika Project’ celebrates heroines of Indian culture

nayika project
Mandy Fields Yokim
October22/ 2015

Love hip-hop? Love Indian culture? If the answer is ‘yes’ to either question, then you won’t want to miss The Nayika Project this weekend. Presented as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s India in Focus showcase, this performance uses music, dance and spoken word to create a modern take on heroines of classical Indian myth.

While many Cultural Trust events for children (including the Citizens Bank Children’s Theater Series) are focused toward younger audiences, The Nayika Project is different.  “We wanted to have something for older children. We’re starting the new Bridge Theater Series for children ages 7 and older but this show is good for older teens ages 14 and up because the content is about discovering love, dealing with relationships and empowering young women,” says Tracy Edmunds, vice president of arts education at the Cultural Trust.

The show tells the story of Nina, a young woman recovering from a tough breakup, and Sakhi, a mystical woman who tries to help Nina by teaching her about the Nayikas. “The Nayikas are eight archetypes of women representing eight different states in a relationship with her partner. The Nayikas have been used as theme in Indian painting, literature, sculpture as well as in Indian classical dance. They’re inspired by Indian poetry as old as the second century,” says hip-hop and spoken word artist Paige Hernandez, playwright and director of the performance.

Hernandez met Chitra Kalyandurg several years ago and together they began developing The Nayika Project in 2012. Kalyandurg’s formal training in the classical Indian dance called Kuchipudi inspired much of the choreography in the show but both genres, hip hop and Indian dance, shine throughout the performance. “This is something really different than what we’ve seen before in the Cultural District. Often where things appear diverse, there are quite a bit of similarities and this is demonstrated throughout the show,” says Tracy Edmunds.

The performance lasts for one hour with no intermission as the story incorporates different styles and art forms from both hip-hop and Indian dance. Hernandez says that both dance styles are similar because they value storytelling, emotion and rhythm. “I also noticed that hip-hop music has a lot of Indian samples so the music lent itself to a natural fusion,” she adds.

The Nayika Project features original music from Anjna Swaminathan on percussion, Rajna Swaminathan on violin, Roopa Mahadevan on vocals and hip-hop beats by Nick Hernandez.

Student matinees will be held on Friday, Oct. 23 and public performances will be held on Saturday, Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Pierce Studio in the Trust Arts Education Center. Contact the Cultural Trust for tickets and more info. Ticket prices begin at $10.50.

Featured image: Allrich Designs Photography.

Mandy Fields Yokim

Mandy Fields Yokim is a nationally published writer and editor based in the Pittsburgh area. Her work has appeared in Parents Magazine, Blue Ridge Country Magazine, NEXTpittsburgh, Kidsburgh, TEQ Magazine, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and nearly 20 parenting publications across the United States and Canada. Her blog posts have appeared online at Pittsburgh Magazine, Kid World Citizen and Wonderaddo, the global education initiative she founded in 2013 to encourage kids and families to explore the world in Pittsburgh. She is contributing editor of regional books such as Grit, Smoke and Steam, Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia and Bridges of Pittsburgh.