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Anikai Dance Troupe To Tour India


She was two years old when Wendy Jehlen, a Somerville, MA resident, first saw a Bharat Natyam performance and was transfixed by it. Since then, dance has been central to her life.

In January 2011,  Jehlen will take her 7-member dance company, ANIKAI Dance, for a five-week, six-city tour in India, beginning with performances in Delhi and Chennai under the auspices of the National School of Drama's Bharat Rang Mahotsav. They will tour with two of Jehlen's evening-length works, “Forest” and “He Who Burns.”

In a review of a New York City performance of “Forest,” Backstage.com, an online magazine on New York dance and theater, said:"Wendy Jehlen is a captivating choreographer, with sharp musical sensibilities, an affinity for the natural integration of modern and world dance styles, and a deep sensitivity to the connections between human body movements and moods."

ANIKAI Dance is a project of “Akhra: the Dancing Grounds, Inc.,” a Boston-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to breaking down the perceived boundaries between people, cultures and art forms, which has completed several other major international performance projects.

This is the first time a Boston-based dance company has ever embarked on such an extensive India tour. In fact it is the first time a Boston-based dance company, other than the Boston Ballet, has ever embarked on such an extensive tour anywhere in the world.

Jehlen was first introduced by the power of classical Indian dance when at the age of two she saw a performance by the legendary Bhaskar, a Bharat Natyam dancer who toured extensively in the US. Her aunt, Carolyn Kay, was Bhaskar's partner until Bhaskar fell off a stage and broke his back, getting paralyzed from the waist down. Watching this performance changed the course of Jehlen's life. She began studying Bharata Natyam at Triveni School of Dance in Brookline, MA at the age of seven.

In college at Brown University, Jehlen developed an independent concentration focusing on performance as a way to preserve a culture, with one of her focuses being Indian dance. When she graduated, she went to India for the first time with her guru, Neena Gulati.

From then until now she has spent almost half of her time in India, on grants from Fulbright, the American Institute of Indian Studies and on her own, studying with the renowned proponents of the Kalakshetra style of Bharata Natyam, Shanta and V. P. Dhananjayan as well as with the legendary Chandrasekhar. She lived, choreographed and toured in India, as well as in Italy and Japan.

Jehlen has also studied many other forms of dance and movement, including Brazilian Capoeira, Japanese Butoh, South Indian Kalaripayattu, and many Contemporary dance forms. But her training in Bharata Natyam forms the foundation of her work. In her choreography, she often uses the traditional structure of the classical Indian dance performance, drawing the audience into the sacred space of the dance and into the world of emotion, beauty and finally enlightenment.

This is true of her latest work, “Forest,” in which she adheres very strictly to this structure. It begins with an invocation to the butterfly, who represents the qualities of Ganesh, a god of transformation, metamorphosis, travel. “Forest” ends with a "Tillana," of flying birds, and finally, the Mangalam, returning to the image of the butterfly.  

In 2007, Jehlen was invited by Maharaja Muzzafar Ali, director of films such as Anjuman, to choreograph and perform an opening piece for his Jahan-e-Khusrau festival, at which Abida Parveen is an annual fixture. Jehlen choreographed a solo, "Moth," based on images from Sufism, and from Rumi in particular, of the Moth's irresistible attraction to the flame that symbolizes the path of the Sufi soul toward god. In a review in The Hindu newspaper, Anjana Rajan, a dance critic, wrote: “When the U.S.-based Wendy Jehlen goes on stage, you know you are in the realm of the heart.”

It was a stage performance that went beyond the limits of a particular dance form Jehlen was originally asked to perform at the opening of the festival. However, after seeing the piece, and press and audience reactions to it, Muzzafar Ali asked Jehlen to present the piece again to open the last day of the festival, and has subsequently asked her to choreograph other pieces for festivals in years following.

ANIKAI Dance's India tour is the culmination of years of work. The group has  secured about half of the funds necessary to make this happen from the presenters in India. The rest must be raised in the US. ANIKAI recently kicked off their fundraising campaign for the tour at Tantric Indian Bistro in Boston's Theater District. Of  a total of $50,000 that needs to be raised,  roughly $5000 has been raised, and another $10,000 promised as a match, when the rest has been raised. They are also negotiating with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to fund part of their airfare from the US to India. Donations of any size help them toward the goal.

Jehlen is hoping to share this experience with art lovers in the community by taking them on tour with ANIKAI Dance. Modeled on the alumni travel clubs, they are establishing an Akhra,Inc./ANIKAI Dance travel club. This will be a very personalized experience in which participants will travel with ANIKAI to the venues and festivals where the company will perform.  In each city, participants will have the opportunity to meet and spend time with great artists of the regions and to see a stunning array of performance forms. Participants may also opt for private or semi-private classes with some of the best teachers of the regional art forms.

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