Rachna Nivas’ Reclaiming the Divine Feminine to World premiere on  March 1-2


One of the most accomplished kathak dance practitioners of her generation, Rachna’s work takes audiences into the dark and mystical realm of tantra

Our Bureau

New York, NY

The world premiere of Reclaiming the Divine Feminine is scheduled for March 1-2, 2024 at New York Live Arts. Created and performed by Rachna Nivas, renowned kathak dance artist and Co-Artistic Director of Leela Dance Collective, this work takes audiences into the dark and mystical realm of tantra, hailing independent feminine power as the universe’s primordial energy. With live music, special lighting and prop design, Nivas embodies Kali – Goddess of Time and Death who epitomizes the paradoxes of feminine wholeness and illuminates a woman’s path to reclaiming her limitlessness. This performance promises to haunt, provoke, and enchant.

According to Nivas, the tantric wisdom goddesses (mahavidyas) are some of the most radical yet invisible iconography of South Asian civilization. She says, “Tantra, which was birthed in tribal India, has been highly denigrated and stereotyped in the West to be about sex and freakish practices. It’s tragic how little folks know about this powerful paradigm, even in India itself due to its unorthodox departure from patriarchal structures and what we consider ‘wild’ and ‘horrific’ imagery of a woman.”

The phrase “divine feminine” has been gaining popularity recently, but Nivas hopes to expand and deepen its understanding. She says, “Tantra’s ‘divine feminine’ is a rare concept in that she is not just a revered nurturing consort to a male deity, but rather an entirely independent and autonomous power, not depicted with a partner or even as a mother. My own life has taken me to deep self-inquiry and brought me to discover how profound and liberating these goddesses are. They have the power to transform and reclaim a woman’s wild limitlessness nature.”

Reclaiming the Divine Feminine is a project that germinated from Nivas’ 6-month research journey for the Jerome Robbins Dance Division prestigious Dance Research Fellowship at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The 2022-23 theme being Dance and Ecology, Nivas presented a culminating talk and dance with live music titled Nature, Woman, and the Macrocosm: How Indian classical dance transmits a consciousness of indivisibility. It showcased the intersectionality of Indian classical dance with ecofeminism, interconnectedness, and non-duality. Curator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, Linda Murray, says, “Rachna is one of the most accomplished Kathak practitioners working in the US today. A radical artist whose practice is both deeply respectful of tradition but also interrogative, she keeps alive one of the most important lineages of Indian classical dance and is a crucial figure for understanding the integration of Indian culture into the American dance mosaic.”

In addition to the NYPL, Reclaiming the Divine Feminine is supported by New York Live Arts under their Independent Works program and CUNY Dance Initiative. Live Musical Artists will include Jayanta Banerjee, sitar; Satyaprakash Mishra, tabla; Varshini Narayanan, Bansuri flute; Dara Hankins, cello; Neha Tummala, vocals.

Rachna Nivas is a performing artist, choreographer, educator, community organizer, scholar, and activist of Indian classical art. She is one of the most accomplished Kathak dance practitioners of her generation. A radical artist whose practice is both deeply protective of tradition but also interrogative, she keeps alive one of the most important lineages of classical Indian dance. Called by critics “revelatory”, “charismatic”, “a dancer who radiates power and grace”, her work is rooted in feminine consciousness and Eastern philosophies that challenges Eurocentric cultural paradigms. After rising to principal dancer in legendary master Chitresh Das’ acclaimed company for 15 years, she is now co-founder and co-artistic director of Leela Dance Collective and is building her own solo body of work in a generative chapter of her artistic journey.

Rachna was a New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dance Research Fellow which became the genesis of her newest solo work, ‘Reclaiming the Divine Feminine’. To complete this work, Rachna was awarded the 2023-24 CUNY Dance Initiative Residency. Her additional original works include ‘Unedited’, a risk-bound tour-de-force solo highlighting improvisation with live musicians; SPEAK, a cross-cultural collaboration bringing together leading women in kathak and tap,; Son of the Wind, a large-scale Ramayana dance drama. Notable tours of her works include LA’s Broad Stage and Ford Theaters, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Mumbai’s Royal Opera House, New Delhi’s Epicenter, Maui Arts and Cultural Center, and Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center.

As an educator and community organizer, Rachna is currently directing Leela New York’s thriving training institution. She has taught in numerous educational residencies, most notably at Verdon/Fosse Legacy, Kuperberg Center for the Arts, New Orleans’ Treme Center, Miami’s Conservatory of Arts.

Leela Dance Collective is a bi-coastal artist-led and women-led internationally touring dance company bringing the richness and depth of Indian classical dance to contemporary audiences worldwide through traditional works and cross-genre collaborations. Under the artistic direction of renowned kathak artists Rachna Nivas, Rukhmani Mehta, and Seibi Lee, the Collective has garnered critical acclaim engaging some of today’s leading dancers and musicians, as well as collaborative artists of other genres. through groundbreaking productions like SPEAK, Son of the Wind, ReSound, and more. Past highlights include appearances at Ford Theaters, BroadStage, Kimmel Cultural Campus, Green Music Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, Maui Arts & Cultural Center, and NC State LIVE.  

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