SMT. RUKMINI DEVI ARUNDALE
Born in Madura on 29 February 1904 is responsible for the revival and upliftment of Bharatanatyam as a spiritual form of dance in India. After befriending the famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova, she started learning ballet from Cleo Nordi, one of Pavlova’s leading solo dancers. It was Pavlova who encouraged Rukmini to start learning Indian dance. Under the tutelage of Mylapore Gowri Amma and then Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai she gave her first performance in 1935. In 1936 she, along with her husband, the British Theosophist Dr George Arundale, she established Kalakshetra, an academy of dance and music. Rukmini Devi is solely responsible for the upliftment of bharatanatyam; it is she who revived that dance form to its spiritual and divine nature. She died in 1986; however her contribution to dance, art, music, theosophy and spirituality continues to live on in the hearts, minds and souls of all her disciples who are all over the world.
SMT. KAMALA RANI
Born in Burma, Kamala Rani and her family had to move back to India during the Second World War. She studied music at the Annamalai University in Chidambaram. At the age of fifteen she joined the Teacher’s College of Music in Madras, where she completed her course with a First Class degree. Thereafter she received a letter of invitation from Kalakshetra to join the teaching staff as a music teacher. Not only was she one of Kalakshetra’s leading vocalists, but also established herself as the first female nattuvanar, breaking barriers for women in the field. Kalakshetra became the first dance institute to establish a meaningful theoretical syllabus for dancers. In 1944, when Kalakshetra held its first dance drama, she performed as both lead vocalist and nattuvanar. Kamala Rani was the main singer and vocal teacher at Kalakshetra till her death.
SMT. SATYA BHAMA
Born in 1952, daughter of Smt. Kamala Rani, tall, slim and graceful Satya Bhama, a versatile dancer of Kalakshetra, has learnt bharatanatyam and music since the age of ten. She holds a diploma and post-graduate diploma in bharatanatyam from Kalakshetra. In 1970 the Sangeeta Nataka Academy (India) selected her as one of the best bharatanatyam dances. She participated in many dance dramas produced by Smt. Rukmini Devi, such as, Kannappar Kuravanji, Gita Govindam and the Ramayana series to name a few. In 1972 she travelled widely in Western Europe as a member of the Kalakshetra troupe, and later in the 70’s toured Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Fiji, Lesotho and Botswana. In 1975 Satya Bhama started the Sangeeta Nataka Academy, later renamed the Institute of Indian Art and Culture, in South Africa. Her contribution to bharatanatyam in South Africa has been celebrated and appreciated by many in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. Before her arrival there were no bharatanatyam teachers in the then Transvaal and it is through her thorough knowledge and understanding of the intricacies of the artform that this dance style was uplifted in South Africa. After establishing branches of the IIAC in the US and Australia Satya Bhama subsequently moved back to Chennai, where she lives and works. Her legacy and teachings still continue through her many disciples.