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In Conversation With Shoba Narayanan

Ranjani Saigal

Shoba Narayanan is a bharatanatyam artist from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.  She is a student of Shoba Sharma, who is a senior disciple of Naatyacharyas Dhananjayans.  Shoba has also been fortunate to receive training from the Dhananjayans themselves and also Professor C.V Chandrasekhar, and Jaya Chandrasekhar. Shoba has appeared in both group and solo performances in the U.S, and in India during Music Season 08-09.  She has given lecture demonstrations at museums, colleges, universities, schools, fundraisers, and community outreach events.

        For 14 years, Shoba has trained at The Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet under the direction of John White and Margharita de Saa, and has regularly performed in their annual production of the Nutcracker ballet.  She continues to study ballet, as well as jazz, tap and modern dance as part of her training at The Boston Conservatory where she is a Sophomore majoring in Musical Theater.

        Along with her passion for bharatanatyam and ballet, Shoba is also an actor and singer.  Some of her theatrical credits include Maria in West Side Story, Cosette in Les Miserables, Chava in Fiddler on the Roof, and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

        Shoba was the First Place Winner in the Cleveland Aradhana dance competition in 2009.  She was placed first in the voice competition at the Tri-County Youth Festival, in Pennsylvania, in 2007.  Shoba received the Apprenticeship award from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts which allowed for the creation of a unique piece that integrates two of her artistic passions: bharatanatyam and ballet.  In 2009, she received the “Outstanding Young Achiever Award” from the Council of Indian Organizations, recognizing her achievements in the performing arts.

Shoba aspires to work on Broadway, National Tours, film, and continue bringing bharatanatyam onto the mainstream stage.



What motivated you to take on Musical Theater as a major?


From a young age I was very much drawn to performing. Throughout my school years, I excelled in all performing art forms that I was involved in, including ballet, bharatanatyam, acting, voice, violin, and Carnatic music. When it was time to make college decisions, it became clear that if I wanted to be a performing artist, to be true to the pursuit, I needed to make a full time commitment to it. Musical Theater, allowed me to do all three -- acting, singing and dance – that I enjoyed so much.


 Can you describe your experience at The Boston Conservatory? Why did you pick this particular school?


You can think of the Boston Conservatory as the Kalakshetra of the U.S. It has one of the top Musical Theater programs in the nation. This, coupled with a strong liberal arts program, made it an ideal choice for me. Their alumni are all over the world- in Broadway shows, in National tours, television, film, teaching at universities, creating new work etc. Essentially, this is the kind of work I hope be involved in the future. My experience so far has been phenomenal, and I feel like I’m in the right place. Conservatory life is very hectic. I’m taking 11 courses, all of which meet 2 or 3 days a week. So along with a 9 AM to 6 PM academic schedule, if you are cast in a show, you have to work right through to the end of the night! It’s great though. Everyone here extremely talented and has high standards and expectations. Everyday I’m inspired by the people around me. It’s definitely a good atmosphere to be in if you are serious about the arts. 

What is your training in the arts?


I started ballet at the age of 5 at The Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet, where I eventually became a pre-professional dancer. You can see a clip of me dancing in the Nutcracker ballet here:





I’ve been studying bharathanatyam under Shoba Sharma, who is a senior disciple of the Dhananjayans for the past 14 years. I’ve also been fortunate to have received training from bharathanatyam legends, V.P and Shanta Dhananjayan, C.V. Chandrasekhar and Jaya Chandrasekhar. While in Boston, I go to Sangeeta Vijeysarathy, who is a disciple of the Dhananjayans.


At the Boston Conservatory, I take Tap, Jazz and Modern dance.


I studied Carnatic Music for several years with T. N. Bala, disciple of Madurai Mani Iyer. Recently, I’ve started taking lesson from Kiranavali Vidyasankar.



While in Philadelphia I studied voice under Lisa Willson DeNolfo (Juilliard Grad), and am continuing my training at The Boston Conservatory. 

Acting-wise, I’ve studied Meisner, Viewpoints, and Alexander techniques. I’ve also played lead roles in several musicals. Some easily recognizable roles would be Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, Maria in West Side Story, Chava in Fiddler on the Roof and Cosette in Les Miserables.


Congratulations on getting a chance to perform during the season in Chennai. Could you tell us how you got the opportunity? When and where will you be performing?


Thank you, I’m thrilled to perform in the Season again this year. This year’s opportunity came about because I won First Place in the Cleveland Aradhana’s Bharathanatyam Competition. As part of the award, the Cleveland Aradhana has invited me to perform at Narada Gana Sabha on Sunday, January 3, 2010, 9:30 AM. I’m also performing at Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha “Vani Mahal” on January 5, 6:30 PM, and Kartik Fine Arts “Dakshinamurthy auditorium” on January 7, 6 PM.


What is your career goal?


I have many! First and foremost, I hope to be a performer on Broadway, National Tours, or in film and television. I’d also love to record an album at some point. It depends on what opportunities open up for me. I would like to continue bringing bharathanatyam into the mainstream stage in the U.S. I could also bring my ballet and musical theater skills onto the stage or film scene in India. Maybe grad school down the road and a professorial position at a university…who knows!


It is unusual to find a South Asian parent supporting a career in the arts. How did you convince them?


I wouldn’t say that I convinced them, but more that they were convinced through my track record. My parents are big supporters of the arts. They’ve always encouraged me to pursue what I loved, and I can’t thank them enough for that. I’m truly lucky to have parents who support me in a career in the arts, because it’s true- not many South Asian parents would. My parents believe that sucess comes to those who love what they do. I clearly love what I do. My parents are confident that I have the talent and drive to make it in this field. With their support, I’m working as hard as I can to succeed in it.


In the world of dance who do you look up to?

My guru, Shoba Sharma, was my first role model in my dancing career. I admire her keen sense of detail and passion for perfection. Of course, my grand-gurus, the Dhananjayans are a great source of inspiration for me. Dhananjayan anna is a genius choreographer and Shantha akka is not only a fantastic dancer, but an incredible human-being. I have a special regard for Chandru Anna and Jaya Aunty who trained me during my formative years and never hesitate to give straightforward and valuable inputs. Other dancers I look up to for their innovations, stage presence and star-quality are Alarmel Valli and Priyadarshini Govind.


You mentioned in our conversation that supporting the underprivileged is  core to your life. What philanthropies do you support?


Over the years, I have raised funds for several deserving causes. Just recently over Thanksgiving break, I was involved in raising funds for a documentary that draws attention to trafficking of women and children in India. It shows how dance movement therapy is being used to heal children and help them on their path to rebuild their damaged self. In the summer, I was involved in “Harmonies for Hunger Relief” where I sang in a benefit concert to raise money for hunger relief for the Jewish Federation. For the last several years, I’ve performed for the Pearl S. Buck Foundation which is dedicated to Asian children. I was involved in a major fundraiser in the Philadelphia area, along with the movie producer M. Night Shyamalan where we raised money for Papa Vidyakar’s Udavum Karangal/Helping Hands. I’ve given several performances for Temple fundraisers and scholarship funds. Of all these what gives me the most satisfaction is when I know I’m helping children, especially children in need in whatever form -- emotional, artistic or economic.


Thank you so much for you time

Thank you

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