Remembering Balasaraswati

“A Radiant Aesthetic Force”

In celebration of Women’s History Month (March 2020), we recall with respect, awe, and affection the life and artistry of Thanjavur Balasaraswati (1918-1984). Not every organization has its patron saint, but Balasaraswati certainly was and remains such for the Center for World Music. The impact of the art of this great lady, once described by Dr. Narayana Menon as “perhaps the greatest Indian dancer of the past thousand years,” provided the original inspiration for Luise and Samuel Scripps to found and fund the American Society for Eastern Arts (ASEA) in 1963. The ASEA later became the Center for World Music.

Balasaraswati, studio portrait, Madras, 1934

Born in a family of musicians and dancers connected to the royal court of Thanjavur, Bala embodied a matriarchal lineage of artists that the family traced back to the 18th century, at least seven generations. Her grandmother, mother, and brothers were all renowned musicians. She was to play an important pivotal role in the revival of bharata natyam (classical temple dance) and its transformation into a stage art in modern India. Equally important, she became the leading ambassador of South Indian classical dance to the world, being invited during the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s for repeated tours and residencies in the United States, Europe, Japan, and elsewhere.

A great artist, greatest of all living bharata natyam dancers . . . one of the last surviving representatives of the authentic tradition in which dance is a deep-felt spiritual experience. (Indian Express, February 11, 1971)

A radiant aesthetic force . . . (Times of India, March 1972)

Balasaraswati, photo by Jan Steward

With her daughter Lakshmi and her ensemble of musicians, Balasaraswati enthralled professional dancers and musicians, students, and recital audiences during summer workshops organized by the American Society for Eastern Arts. These took place at Mills College in Oakland, California in the summers of 1965, 1966, and 1972, as well as in Bali, Indonesia in 1971. In 1974, Bala and her ensemble—along with K. V. Narayanaswamy and other senior South Indian musicians—figured prominently in the inaugural program of the Center for World Music, a summer session at the Center’s original location in Berkeley, California.

We remember an inspiring artistic giant, a woman that looms large in the history of world dance . . . and the history of the Center for World Music.

For Further Exploration

Knight, Douglas M. 2010. Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life. Wesleyan Univ. Press.

“Bala” (1976), a documentary by Satyajit Ray, the famed Bengali filmmaker.

Documentary by Aniruddha Knight, Balasaraswati’s grandson.


Odissi Dance

Passport to Adventure – Odissi Performance

The Center for World Music Odissi Dance School will be performing at Passport to Adventure, representing the state of Odisha, India through East Indian classical dance, Odissi.

Alice Birney Elementary is an International Baccalaureate school located in University Heights, San Diego. The school encourages their students to view the world globally and is diverse in ethnicity and culture. Every year Alice Birney elementary holds a cultural festival, Passport to Adventure, where the students learn about cultures around the world to enrich the students, school and community.

Odissi Dance School will perform at 3 PM – 3: 25 PM

Odissi Dancer

Rang Tarang – Odissi Performance

The Center for World Music Odissi Dance School will be performing at Rang Tarang, representing the state of Odisha, India through East Indian classical dance, Odissi.

Celebrating the spirit of childhood, CRY  (Child, Rights, and Youth) San Diego is hosting Rang Tarang, an event to showcase the talents of artists in Southern California, while increasing awareness of children’s issues.

Nations of San Diego International Dance Festival – Odissi Performance

The Center for World Music Odissi Dance School will be performing at Nations of San Diego International Dance Festival, representing the state of Odisha, India through East Indian classical dance, Odissi.

Celebrating the 23rd Anniversary Year, Southern California’s Largest Multi-Cultural Dance Festival featuring local dancers and musicians representing cultures spanning the globe. This production under the direction of World Champion Liam Harney.

Admission: $5.00 – $14.00

Odissi Dance School India Cyclone Benefit Concert

Celebrate Odissi Dance and Help Cyclone Victims

Rudraprasad Swain and two additional internationally recognized dancers and dance teachers, Shalini and Shibani Patnaik, will be special guest artists at the Annual Program of the CWM Odissi Dance School on May 25.

In support of the victims of Cyclone Fani, which severely battered northeastern India and Bangladesh, this event will be a benefit concert. The damage from the cyclone has been especially catastrophic in the state of Odisha, the home of Odissi.

The recital will feature performances from all students. Students will present items they have studied at the school under the guidance of the Odissi Dance School’s resident dance master, Rudraprasad Swain, who will direct the program.

Admission is free, but donations for cyclone victims will be gratefully accepted.

Download flyer here.

  • Aftermath of Cyclone Fani

Saptavarna: Seven Shades of Dance

An Indian Dance Spectacular

Saptavarna: Seven Shades of Dance will showcase on one stage seven major dance forms of India: Odissi, Bharatnatyam, Kuchupudi, Mohiniyattam, Kathak, Manipuri, and Contemporary.

Each of the seven dance forms will be presented by eminent exponents of that form, comprising a total of twenty accomplished dancers from India. The program will feature an item entitled “The Bhagavad Gita: The Journey of Life,” which will explore—in dance and music—the spirituality and timeless lessons of that sacred text.

This extraordinary production was conceptualized by Director Aruna Mohanty, who is also responsible for overall choreography. One of India’s leading dancers and choreographers, Mohanty has received a number of awards for her work, including the Sangeeta Natak Akademi Award and the Padma Shree Award from the Government of India.

A production of this scale necessarily has a pan-Indian, multicultural, multilingual approach. It promises further a delightful amalgam of different genres of music, a variety of colorful costumes, and captivating lighting and set design.

Director: Padma Shree Anruna Mohanty (Bhubaneshwar), Odissi

Co-choreographers: Anitha Guha (Chennai), Bharatanatyam | Janardhan Raj Urs (Bengaluru), Contemporary | Monisha Nayak (New Delhi), Kathak | Pallavi Krishnan (Kerala), Mohiniyattam | Avijit Das (Bengaluru), Kuchupudi | Priti Patel (Kolkata), Manipuri

Purchase Tickets

Admission: $40 (VIP seating, first 5 rows) or $30 (General Admission). Free for 2019 subscription patrons of the Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego.

Saptavarna: Seven Shades of Dance is a co-presentation of the CWM’s Odissi Dance School and the Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego.