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Anjani Ambegaokar

March 31, 1945

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Anjani Ambegaokar has trained hundreds of dancers and staged performances around the world since emigrating from India to the U.S. in 1967. As a choreographer, she has not been afraid to expand the traditional repertoire. “Whatever feels really, really right in my heart is what I decide to do,” she says. Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Anjani Ambegaokar, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Anjani Ambegaokar, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Anjani Ambegaokar, Arlington, Virginia, photograph by Alan Govenar, 2004
Anjani Ambegaokar, Arlington, Virginia, photograph by Alan Govenar, 2004
Anjani Ambegaokar, Arlington, Virginia, photograph by Alan Govenar, 2004
Anjani Ambegaokar, Arlington, Virginia, photograph by Alan Govenar, 2004
Anjani Ambegaokar, Arlington, Virginia, photograph by Alan Govenar, 2004
Anjani Ambegaokar, Arlington, Virginia, photograph by Alan Govenar, 2004
Anjani Ambegaokar, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Anjani Ambegaokar, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Anjani Ambegaokar, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Anjani Ambegaokar, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Anjani Ambegaokar, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., photograph by Michael G. Stewart, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Anjani Ambegaokar and her daughter, Amrapali Ambegaokar, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., hotograph by Michael G. Stewart, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Anjani Ambegaokar's father was a famous physicist in India, but “from the moment I was born, it was his dream that I learn to dance,” she told NEA interviewer Mary Eckstein. “So I started learning Bharata Natyam, the South Indian dance form, when I was 3 years old. The only teacher in Baroda was a Bharata Natyam teacher. I still remember vividly a couple of my pieces that I learned at that time — you know, your first teacher makes a very strong impression on you.”

At 7, Ambegaokar began studying Kathak, a 4,000-year-old North Indian classical dance form, with Pandit Sundarlaljee Gangani. “And I got attached not only to him but to the dance,” she said. “Something about Kathak that suits my personality — the energy, the communication, the informality of the form. It's stylized, but it has a lot of openness about it, and I'm that kind of a person, you know.”

In 1967, Ambegaokar immigrated to the United States. In California, she established the Sundar Kala Kandra Dance School, which has trained hundreds of dancers. Her company, Anjani’s Kathak Dance of India, has performed around the world. She trained her daughter, Amrapali, who became the company’s principal dancer and has performed in Cirque du Soleil’s touring production Dralion.

As a choreographer, Ambegaokar has not been afraid to expand the traditional repertoire. “I go very strongly with my intuition,” she told Eckstein. “Whatever feels really, really right in my heart is what I decide to do. I believe that only if you are really passionate about the piece you are creating is it going to work.

“I do traditional productions as well as productions where I go beyond the tradition, pushing the boundaries of the tradition while looking deeper into the tradition to reach new concepts. Like when we did the collaboration ‘Soul to Sole’ with the Jazz Tap Ensemble. For me, it's just a matter of how can you give it a little bit of a twist, a little bit of a different direction, and still maintain the purity of the form.”

“The artist’s life is never easy,” Ambegaokar said, but there are many benefits, including “the little kids who started with me at the age of 5 or 6 that are now grown women, married with kids of their own. They are all my extended family. They are part of what I've done and what I am. Even if they don't dance right now, they're always in touch. They want their kids to start dancing. Kathak is always part of everything that they have done so far and continue to do.

“There are two main aspects in Kathak dancing: the technique and the expressive part. The expressive part is the storytelling, the facial expressions, the ability to portray any person or any mood. That's the beauty of Indian dance. And then the rhythms, the rhythms and the footwork that we do with the ankle bells. For someone to be able to be equally good in both is always a challenge. I try to teach both on an equal level starting from the beginning so when they become full-fledged dancers they can do both equally well.”

Ambegaokar’s own devotion to her art is complete, organic. “All my prayers are through my dance, you know. I mean, it's just beautiful to have that because as we believe in our tradition, the dance. All the Indian dance forms, including Kathak, came from the gods. And then the Shiva and Krishna and all of them danced, and it's been passed on to us. … It's just total passion. It gives me so much peace within myself, and there is amazing excitement in the peace, too, you know. Being peaceful can be very exciting, too.”

Bibliography
Dongre, Arhcana. “Dance Drama Deftly Weaves Tale of Shakuntalam.” India West Entertainment (October 2003).
Haitt, Shobha. “Sharing Traditions: Anjani and Amrapali Ambegaokar Are Taking Kathak to New Heights.” India Currents (October 2001).
Looseleaf, Victoria. “Kathak Troupe Presents Tales of Classic Indian Splendor.” Los Angeles Times (October 1996).
Mathur, Vandana. “Shakuntalam: A Visual and Artistic Treat.” India Journal (October 2002).
Paradkar, Bageshree. “A Sensitive Mingling of Cultures.” Bangalore Times (fall 1998).

Watch

Anjani Ambegaokar, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Anjani Ambegaokar, 2004 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Listen

Anjani Ambegaokar performs some traditional Kathak syllable chanting, Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Anjani Ambegaokar answers the question 'Is your dance performed in sections?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Anjani Ambegaokar answers the question 'When did you start dancing?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Anjani Ambegaokar answers the question 'What does Kathak mean?' Washington, D.C., 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Anjani Ambegaokar answers the question 'What does Kathak mean to you?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar

Anjani Ambegaokar answers the question 'What is the spiritual significance of Kathak?' Arlington, Virginia, 2004, interview by Alan Govenar