Calcutta to California: Sowing an American Lineage of Kathak Dance with Rachna Nivas

Lecture | April 18 | 12-1:30 p.m. | Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Osher Theater

 Rachna Nivas

 Arts + Design

Rachna Nivas is an artist, choreographer, educator, and entrepreneur in Indian classical dance, bringing meaningful leadership to Kathak. Deemed “charismatic” and “revelatory” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Rachna is a fierce performer–a technical powerhouse with masterful creativity and infectious charm. Displaying the depth of her 17-year training under legendary Guru, Pandit Chitresh Das, she is a distinguished torchbearer of the treasured lineage. In 2016, she co-founded the Leela Dance Collective, producing powerful works through the collective creativity of trailblazing women in Kathak. She is also Co-Director of the Bay Area based Chhandam School of Kathak–one of the world’s leading institutions for 38 years in classical Indian dance, art, and culture.

Rachna was principal dancer with the internationally touring Chitresh Das Dance Company for 15 years and received two nominations for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award. She has performed in productions such as Shiva, Sita Haran, Pancha Jati, Darbar, Shabd and many more. Some of the most notable venues she has toured include Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater) and Getty Museum in Los Angeles, National Center for Performing Arts in Mumbai, National Institute of Kathak Dance in New Delhi, Shaniwarwada Festival in Pune, and International Kriya Yoga Congress. Her original solo work, Meera, was featured at the ODC Walking Distance Festival in San Francisco and at Salvatore Capezio Theater in New York City. Rachna is currently touring her latest collaborative work SPEAK, bringing together leading women in kathak and tap and bridging Indian and Black-American/African art and and heritage. Her works have been funded by National Endowment for the Arts, Zellerbach Family Foundation, California Arts Council, and Alliance for California Traditional Arts.

In addition to leading the Chhandam School of Kathak, Rachna is also Artistic Director of the Chhandam Youth Dance Company, shepherding excellence, leadership, and creative discovery amongst teens. She currently splits her time between San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, and Mumbai, becoming one of the most sought-after kathak artists and teachers of her generation. Rachna’s larger vision is to raise awareness, through kathak dance, of the rich philosophies of the Indian subcontinent, and for it to be a tool for empowerment and social change.

Stan is one of the most acclaimed playwrights/directors in Asia, known not only for creating some of the most memorable works for the contemporary Chinese stage, but also for creating bold new genres and staging innovations. He is artistic director of Performance Workshop in Taiwan and festival artistic director of China’s Wuzhen Theatre. Lai’s works, which include over 30 original plays, two feature films, and four operas. Born in the U.S. and based in Taiwan, Lai received a doctorate degree in dramatic art from UC Berkeley. He was a professor and founding dean of the College of Theatre at Taipei National University of the Arts and has also been a visiting professor and artist-in-residence at both UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

Course Description: Co-taught by Peter Glazer and Stan Lai, this series will explore the specific and metaphoric connections amongst Creative action—adapting Stan Lai’s concepts and training—and the possibility of personal, cultural, and social transformation. How do we understand movement, migration, and change both metaphorically and literally? How do artists working in literature, visual art, film, performance, and design explore and enact transformation? Aside from featuring insight into the works and creative methods of Asia’s Stan Lai, the series will also delve into current trends in Latino-American/Latino arts, as well as European and African art and performance.

Arts + Design Thursdays is made possible thanks to support from the Big Ideas Courses Program in the College of Letters & Science at UC Berkeley and from generous supporters of Berkeley Arts + Design. For more information, visit

 All Audiences

 All Audiences