When it comes to Indian dance, music and culture, there’s one name that resonates rather well with the Indians, Swiss and the International segment in the French part of Switzerland. That’s the name of Bharatanatyam dancer Aparna Raghavan. In an interview with Keerthana Nagarajan, Aparna talks about her passion for performing arts and over three decades of life in Switzerland.
Aparna Raghavan moved to Geneva in the 1980s after her wedding. Since then, Aparna has remained aligned to her artistic pursuits. Along with her day job, as an executive assistant for a multinational company in Geneva, Aparna has taught Bharatanatyam, judged dance shows, collaborated with western artists and created a platform called Aeka Academy to teach dance, and also host artists in Switzerland. She recently hosted the concert of renowned Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri Ramnath.
Aparna’s stint with music and dance began quite early. Being the daughter of multifaceted versatile maestro Padmabhushan Sri. T.V. Gopalakrishnan, she had been introduced to dance with the study of Bharatanatyam at the age of 7 years. Aparna still calls herself an ardent student of Bharatanatyam, saying, “I am a senior student of the Natyacharyas, Padmabhushan – The Dhananjayans”.
Born and raised in Chennai and at the peak of pursuing her passion as a dancer, what was it like for her to move to Switzerland? “Not easy at all, but I used to participate in the yearly Margazhi Music Festival in Chennai till 1990 until my son was born. You can take me out of Chennai, but you can’t take Chennai out of me! All thanks to technology today, I never miss my daily dose of Kollywood’s Vadivelu comedy,” she laughs.
She says, “I moved here in 1987 after marrying Raghavan, a business entrepreneur, and my kids Vignesh and Anjali were born in Geneva.”
Starting Aeka Academy in Geneva
Aparna became one of the first Indian dancers to be invited by Ecole Migros and Coop Cultural School to teach Bharatanatyam in Geneva. “I felt that there are many people who are interested in our culture and want to learn more,” she says, and continues, I like to organize, and I had already organized a wonderful show with my Gurus in 1996, when they toured Switzerland for a watch event. In 2009, my friend Anita Vallabh was also in the process of setting up a dance school in India and clubbed with the new project of events. We decided to partner together in this venture, where we could combine a dance school and organize related events. That’s how Aeka Academy started.
As time went by Aparna’s dance school at Geneva got more established. “I have a good mix of students from Geneva, who are doing their masters or doctorate or working for an Indian based company, or the United Nations. Geneva is so international. These are people who have studied dance whilst in India and around the world and would like to continue learning and practicing it during their stint in Geneva.”
That said, Aparna says she has new students every 6 months. “Now I have been asked to add an extra class on weekdays by some students. As my children are now independent, I have more time at hand and would like to delve into bigger projects.”
A dance session at AEKA
Aparna’s dance sessions go by the saying ‘It’s not the beat in your feet, but the beat in your heart.’
“Dance classes should be fun and educational. That’s what I thrive to do during my sessions. We start with body warmups and stretching. We then move on to adavus – the basic steps of Bharatanatyam, which can be quite rigorous. Nowadays, I see many dancers giving importance to body conditioning and warming up before classes. This keeps us protected from knee injuries later in our lives. This is very important here due to the cold temperatures in winter. Apart from dancing, students also have their share of weekly related activities and interactions with new students.”
Organizing concerts and events
Through Aeka Academy, Aparna hosts artists in Switzerland.
“It’s been a very unique experience to bring renowned artists to perform here. I have organized shows with local talents based in Europe, and from Geneva.” Aparna’s first musical event was a Saxophone concert by artist G.Ramanathan when he was visiting the UK and Germany in 2009. “I also had the honor of hosting the veteran versatile artist, my father Padmabhushan T.V. Gopalakrishnan, during his tour in Europe.”
Over the years, Aparna organized many more concerts under Aeka banner. And it’s not just Indian artists who have been part of these events. “We’ve had a myriad of local artists who joined us, like Sandrine Ferrebeuf for Jazz, Sophie La Cali for Flamenco, Nathalie Rapaille for Kathak, Jazz band Pink4tet, a group in Geneva specializing in Tango from Argentina and Portugal to name a few. These shows were organized alongside my performances with my own shows and a team of students.”
Aparna also organized a special program to raise funds for Haiti Earthquake victims of Jacmel, a community of southern Haiti in 2010.
Aeka Academy’s students participated for a Charity Event for Chennai in April 2018, organized by Points-Coeur, an NGO based in Geneva.
But for Aparna, hosting vocalist Bombay Jayshri in 2018 was a dream come true. “I am a huge fan of her music. When I received her email, I was so excited. I must thank my husband Raghavan, who supported me in this venture and made this beautiful dream come true.”
Connecting with other dance associations
Aparna believes it is very important to share the knowledge, learn and evolve with every dance performance and workshop. Her most recent connection a year ago has been with the Swiss Natya Sabha – an association of dancers of all Indian dance forms set up in Zurich. “I am an active member of this new association. We have meetings twice a year with quite an interesting agenda. I applaud their enthusiasm and motivation to have started this effort.”
The road ahead
‘Lots to do… Aeka Academy as a school, organize workshops, yoga courses, Aeka Academy as a platform to showcase talented artists from all around the world. But this pandemic has put a screeching halt to my various projects. With the lockdown starting in March 2020, classes resumed only on May 11th, 2020, when the lockdown was lifted in Geneva, respecting all rules. But now, when I think of organizing concerts & events, everything looks so vague. Maybe we have to find new ways of showcasing art I just tell myself, It will not be like this way forever.
So many artists contact me on a regular basis. I have the intention to, but financially, it’s overwhelming. If I can find the right sponsor and the right support, we are good to go. There are many good artists who should be showcased in my opinion, and I have my fingers crossed,” she concludes on a hopeful note.
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