11 December 1969 (age 51)
Stella Maris College, Chennai
Bharatanatyam choreographer and dancer
1981 – present
Savitha Sastry is an Indian dancer and choreographer best known as an exponent of Bharatanatyam. She is known to experiment with the format of traditional Bharatanatyam by using the techniques of Bharatanatyam to showcase theme based productions based on novel stories, not based on Indian mythology or religion. Her innovations have been described as ‘path breaking’ by critics, and she is considered to be a ‘renaissance architect’ of the dance form much as Rukmini Devi Arundale was in her times.
Early life and education
Savitha Subramaniam was born in Hyderabad, and later lived in Mumbai before her family relocated to their home town of Chennai. She started her training in Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of Guru Mahalingam Pillai at the Sri Rajarajeswari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir in Mumbai, and later with Adyar K Lakshman and the Dhananjayans in Chennai. She did her schooling from the P.S Senior Secondary School in Chennai, and her graduation from the Stella Maris College.
In 1986, she featured as the lead dancer in the Tamil film Ananda Tandavam, a production of her Guru Adyar K Lakshman. She pursued her master’s degree in the United States, where she majored in Neuroscience.
Through the 1980s, 1990s and the first decade of the millennium, Sastry had performed mostly to traditional repertoires of Bharatanatyam. She produced and choreographed a few full length presentations such as Krishna: The Supreme Mystic and Purushartha during this phase.
She is credited to have a high degree of technical proficiency to her kinetics of the dance form in being able to deliver it with grace and technique demanded of Bharatanatyamperformers. Sydney-based critic Hamsa Venkat referred to “Savitha’s crisp nritta (pure dance), clean lines and flawless aramandi was a breath of fresh air, and truly inspirational for students of dance.” The Audition Panel of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival described her dancing with the words “Moves like a temple sculpture come to life”.
By 2009, Sastry departed from performing traditional margams (the traditional order in which classical dance is performed), and started her work on theme based productions. Sastry is noted for the use of contemporary and original story lines in her performances and her portrayal of multiple characters as a solo performer in them, which is a marked departure from the traditional Bharatanatyam theme of the nayika (the heroine) pining for love or pieces based on Bhakti (devotion) alone. Some of her notable productions include Music Within(2010), Soul Cages (2012), The Prophet: Destiny. Divinity. Doubt and Chains: Love Stories of Shadows (2015).
Sastry has been critically lauded not only for her technique, but also for her innovations with the art form to take it to a wider audience. A profile story in the Times of India reported “(Savitha) has merged contemporary content with the centuries old dance form to create a unique niche”
Critic Fozia Yasin of the Asian Age notes that Sastry “aims to bring about a renaissance in the traditional art form by marrying the aesthetics of Bharatanatyam with the power of an intelligent and novel story-line.” Critic Nonika Singh of The Tribune wrote, “Knocking down pigeonholes as she breaks free, she hopes to inspire more and more aspiring dancers to soar along, in the vast expanse of tradition minus the baggage of restrictive thinking!” Critic Yamini Walia of the Afternoon Despatch & Courier reports that “her path breaking work has been recognised as a renaissance by critics and audiences all over the world.”
All her productions have been based on short stories by her husband, AK Srikanth, and the soundtrack for the productions have been composed by Rajkumar Bharathi, the great grandson of the veteran poet Subramania Bharathi. These have been performed in the Indian Subcontinent, Australia, South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the Americas, and the productions have met with critical and popular acclaim. Another hallmark of Sastry’s presentations is a Q & A session that she and Srikanth have with the audience at the end of the performance where the audience discuss the presentation with the performer and writer. Critic Lakshmi Ramakrishna of the Hindu praised this teamwork with the words “The husband – wife duo has struck a chord with audiences in conveying deeply philosophical thoughts with striking simplicity, élan and elegance”
She has been labeled the “Dancing Storyteller” by the popular press following these productions.
Since 2018, Sastry and Srikanth have been releasing their productions on free to stream digital platforms to take their work to a world audience. They are also in the process of working on releasing short classical dance videos that narrate a unique story, on the same lines of popular music videos.
Their first release, ‘The Descent’ has been awarded the Best Short Film 2019 at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, The Top Shorts Awards, the Near Nazareth Festival and the Best Global Short. It was also nominated at the John Abraham International Short Film Festival, the 5th Jaipur Film World 2021, Venice Film Awards, Cannes Short Film Festival, FilmFest by Rogue Dancer, Open Window International Film Challenge, Concepsion International Film Awards, Mumbai 9th Indian Cine Festival 2021, the 11th Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival 2021, Florence Film Awards, and the First Time Filmmaker Sessions.
In 2020, they released ‘Awakening’, ‘Aparajita’ and ‘Colors – Green’. ‘Colors – Green’ is the first part of a trilogy on the modern woman, examined in the context of the Indian Flag and its dream for its citizens.
Sastry is married to AK Srikanth, who is her partner in all her productions and also her classmate from her high school. The couple jointly produce their shows, and live in Mumbai.
Dance Theatre Productions
- Purushartha (2002)
- Sacrifice (2003)
- Krishna – The Supreme Mystic (2006)
- Music Within (2010)
- Soul Cages: The story of Life, Death & Beyond (2012)
- Yudh – Three Perspectives, One Truth (2013)
- The Prophet: Destiny. Divinity. Doubt (2013)
- Chains: Love Stories of Shadows (2015)
- In God’s Country (2015)
- Music Within – the Group Presentation (2020)
- Elysian Pursuits: The Journey of Savitha Sastry (2015)
- Sex, Death & the Gods – a BBC documentary (2011)
- Chains: Live in Concert (2018)
- Yudh: The Dance Film (2019)
- Prophet: The film (2019)
- The Descent (2019)
- Awakening (2020)
- Aparajita (2020)
- Colors – Green (2020)