Leela Dance Collective boasts some of todays leading kathak artists and dancers representing a diversity of artistic voices and vision.
Founding Artist, Artistic Director
Rukhmani Mehta (previously Rina Mehta) brings a singular voice and vision to the art of kathak. An artist and an entrepreneur, she displays on and off the stage her depth of training with legendary kathak master, Pt. Chitresh Das, an unshakeable grounding in tradition and a pioneering spirit. Described as “regal” and “brilliant” by critics, her performances and artistic work are paving a path forward for the legacy of Pt. Chitresh Das and kathak dance itself.
Rukhmani is a founding artist of the Leela Dance Collective. Her original works include SPEAK, a kathak-tap collaboration; Chandanbala, the story of the revered Jain saint interpreted through the kathak tradition; and Son of the Wind, the story of India’s mythological hero, Hanuman, brought to life through dance-drama. She has received funding to create and tour her works by such prestigious institutions such as the National Endowment for the Arts, New Music USA, the California Arts Council, and the Zellerbach Family Fund. Prior to her work with the Leela Dance Collective, Rukhmani was a principal dancer with the Chitresh Das Dance Company, performing and touring with the company’s critically acclaimed productions including Shabd, Pancha Jati, and Sita Haran across the United States and India.
She has received the Alliance for California Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant and twice been nominated for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Company performance as part of the Chitresh Das Dance Company. She has performed at such prestigious venues and festivals nationally and in India as REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater), Meany Hall for Performing Arts (University of Washington), Tata Theater/NCPA in Mumbai, and the Shaniwarwada Dance Festival in Pune, as a soloist and with the Chitresh Das Dance Company.
Rukhmani is also the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright award and researched the effectiveness of kathak dance education as a social intervention in underprivileged communities in Mumbai, India. Rukhmani’s most ambitious initiative is The Leela Endowment, the first initiative of its kind, aimed at providing the financial infrastructure necessary to advance India’s rich artistic heritage.
Founding Artist, Artistic Director
Seibi Lee is a consummate kathak artist known for her powerful mastery, refined musicality, and dramatic brilliance in character portrayal. Seibi is a distinguished disciple of the iconic kathak legend Pandit Chitresh Das. She is one of the founders of Leela Dance Collective and is the Dean of Leela San Francisco.
Seibi has toured worldwide earning accolades and deep respect for her artistry. She received an Isadora Duncan Dance Special Award as part of the performing ensemble in Das’s East As Center and received two subsequent nominations for performances in Pancha Jati and Shabd. As principal dancer of the Chitresh Das Dance Company, Seibi evolved a singular perspective and style through the development of virtuosic character roles in several of Das’s critically acclaimed works: the scheming maidservant Mantara in Ramayana, the dual roles of the tormented demon Marich and beloved tribal prince Hanuman in Sita Haran, the belligerent General in Darbar, and in Das’s final work, the electrifying Guru in Shiva. Her outstanding portrayal of Hanuman became the inspiration for the central character and creation of Leela Dance Collective’s Son of the Wind – the full-length dance drama bringing to life Hanuman’s rarely told heroic and valorous adventures from the epic Ramayana.
Son of the Wind premiered at the Green Center in Sonoma in 2017, was featured at ODC Theatre in San Francisco in 2018, and in 2019 presented at the prestigious Royal Opera House in Mumbai, India and the Ford Theater in Hollywood.
Seibi has a profound passion for the expansive philosophy, dynamic range, and sophisticated rhythmic mathematics integral to kathak and is dedicated to bringing this art form to the world. Highly regarded for her teaching, Seibi has mentored many generations of dancers and in 2016, she was recognized by The Alliance of California Traditional Arts as Master Artist. She has produced several featured shows including Pacific Pathways, Aarambh, and Harvest Moon Festival. Seibi continues to forge her own unique path within the artistic tradition and, with the support of both the Haas Foundation and a 2-year Artist in Residence with the Oakland Asian Cultural Center, conceived and choreographed the mesmerizing solo work Houyi and Chang’e, – the heart-rending tale of great heroism and of tragically star-crossed lovers.
“Seibi Lee in the double roles of Marich, the retired roué, and as Hanuman, minister to Sugreeva, the wronged prince of the Monkeys, was magnificent” –Rita Feliciano, Dance View
Founding Artist, Artistic Director
Rachna Nivas is an artist, choreographer, educator, and entrepreneur in Indian classical dance, bringing a relevant voice to kathak. Deemed “charismatic” and “revelatory” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Rachna is a fierce and passionate performer, and is a distinguished torchbearer of legendary master Pandit Chitresh Das’s treasured lineage. She is a founding artist of the Leela Dance Collective, producing powerful works through the collective creativity of trailblazers in kathak.
Rachna is currently touring her latest collaborative work SPEAK, bringing together leading women in kathak and tap and bridging Indian and African-American art and heritage. Notable performances include Broad Stage in Los Angeles, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, a 3-city tour across India, and a 3-island tour of Hawaii. She is also a co-creator of the large scale dance ballad, Son of the Wind, featuring 20 dancers and a live orchestra. 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. Her original work Stir, conceived and choreographed for the Chhandam Youth Dance Company, was featured at the WorldWideWomen’s Girls Festival.
Her works have been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, New Music USA, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, California Arts Council, and Zellerbach Family Foundation.
Prior to work with the Leela Dance Collective, Rachna was principal dancer with the Chitresh Das Dance Company for 15 years and received two nominations for an Isadora Duncan Dance Award while performing worldwide in productions such as Shiva, Sita Haran, Pancha Jati, Darbar, Shabd, and many more. Some of the most notable venues she performed at as part of CDDC, include Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater and Ford Theaters in Los Angeles, National Center for Performing Arts and Royal Opera House in Mumbai, National Institute of Kathak Dance in New Delhi, Shaniwarwada Festival in Pune, and International Kriya Yoga Congress.
Rachna has also been instrumental in building Leela San Francisco, one of the world’s premiere Indian arts institutions. She is artistic director of the Leela Youth Dance Company, shepherding excellence, leadership, and youth empowerment amongst teens. She is also Director of Leela NY, bringing the teachings of her lineage of kathak to New York City. Currently splitting her time between San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles, Rachna is one of the most sought-after artists of her generation.
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