Svetlana Tulasi, born on 30 August 1991, is an Indian Classical & Bollywood dancer, choreographer, actress and model from Moscow, Russia. Svetlana is of mixed ethnical origin: her father was a Telugu businessman from Hyderabad, India, and her mom is a Russian, from Moscow.
Svetlana is a trained Kathak dancer, she learned the dance from a Russian woman named Ekaterina Selivyorstova, disciple of one of the most prominent Kathak Gurus – Smt. Urmila Nagar of Kathak Kendra University (Delhi, India). Svetlana’s Guru ji came back to Russia after graduating from Kathak Kendra University in late 90’s and continues teaching Kathak dance to her students till today. Svetlana is her senior disciple.
She now has become a professional Kathak dancer with a Bollywood-type appearance, being one of the most popular artists of Indian Dance both offline – in Russia and CIS, and online – on Youtube. Her videos from Ukraine’s Got Talent TV show where she danced in a traditional Kathak dance style gained millions of views and hundreds of comments from different people across the world.
Svetlana’s dream is to encourage as many people of Indian origin as possible to remember their roots and contribute to their nation’s rich culture through Indian Classical Dance instead of following the western culture imposed by the mass media.
We had the opportunity to interview her and know about her passions and future projects.
1. Being born to a mixed ethnic and cultural heritage, do you feel you had the best of both worlds? Growing up in Russia, What / who inspired you to take up Kathak?
Growing up in Moscow, Russia, a country where the community of Indian origin is very small, I was physically separated from the huge cultural heritage of India. There was no youtube when I was a kid, no access to performances of the classical dancers, just some video tapes of bollywood movie songs, so my father and mother, who both were fond of traditional indian art forms, encouraged me to take up my classical dance training.
In a city like Moscow, where the urban western lifestyle and culture is dominating, I could not witness most of what the Indian culture had to give. At the same time I had the opportunity to explore the Russian and western art forms – ballet, theatrical plays, literature, musicals, live shows, architecture sculpture and paintings. Western culture in the area of performing arts, as I feel it, is a lot about entertainment, and less about art, so the way I perform Kathak is different from most of the Kathak dancers coming from India, because I am trying to turn Kathak into a more spectacular dance form for the broader audiences. That mix of observing western entertainment and traditional Indian art have had a great impact on me as I grew up. At the same time, I did my proper Kathak riyaz for 15 years, and today my style of dancing could be described as a 'westernized kathak' with desi-bollywood expressions added.
2. In most of the forms of dance, the classical form appears to be dying because it is harder to attract younger audiences. How true is this of Kathak?
Yes, like all traditional art forms, as time goes by, majority of people lose interest for them and get attracted to modern culture. However, I feel it is my responsibility as a Kathak dance artist, to not let Kathak dissolve as an art form. It is our duty to contemporarize Kathak, to help the youth see how beautiful it is and what true performing arts actually are, especially compared to the modern westernized pop culture. True art continues to live long after its creator is gone, and this is something that doesn't happen to most immedate hits that just come and go.
3. You got global praise and recognition for your dance on popular TV shows - Ukraine’s Got Talent, SYTYCD Russia amongst others. How has that experience shaped your life as a dancer?
For me personally TV shows are just another step in my path, a platform to spread the beauty of classical indian dance forms. I am trained in Kathak but I perform south indian classical styles too, as well as indian folk and bollywood songs.
Since I am an independent artist, there are not too many ways for me to promote my art to a broad audience, and luckily all these TV shows in Russia and Ukraine seem to be fond of my way of performing Indian dance, and they are always excited to have me in their shows at least for an episode or two. People of Russia and Ukraine simply love Indian dance and desi Bollywood songs J And of course these shows bring me recognition from people all over the world thanks to social media.
4. You also went on to choreograph few pieces for So You Think You Can Dance in 2016. So as a choreographer, and I suppose as a dancer, who are your influences? Whose work do you really like?
Yes, I have choreographed a semi-classical Kathak mujra in SYTYCD Ukraine and a bhangra/giddha piece for SYTYCD Russia recently. It was a great experience both for me and for the contestants of these shows since noone expected it would be so hard for them to learn these pieces. The common belief here in Russia and Ukraine is that Indian dance is something very easy and fun, but my way of performing and choreographing is always focused on getting as much movements per beat as possible to make it fast but graceful at the same time.
As of now, I have seen so many works of various kathak dancers! I believe all of whom I've seen have had a certain impact on me – and I think this happens to each and every artist out there. Birju Maharaj ji's works as a choreographer for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's movies are all absolutely mindblowing! Saroj Khan's abhinaya that she choreographed for Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai is just incredible! If we talk about the kathak dancers who stay away from Bollywood, my personal favourite is Sanjukta Sinha, disciple of Kumudini Lakhiya ji – her style is a unique combination of lightning speed and extremely graceful feminine postures.
And of all the male kathak dancers of the young generation that I have ever seen, met and worked with, my personal №1 is Kumar Sharma. He has his very own style which is very different from every other kathak dancer, his performances and choreographies are extremely powerful and graceful at the same time, I personally think he's one of those brilliant artists who make a great impact on promoting Kathak to the youth.
5. Bollywood also has a great influence on your craft. Do you feel the purity and essence of the classical form is lost or diluted when an artist does not conform to the traditional techniques, but brings in their own style?
Absolutely not. I belong to the young generation of Kathak dancers, my mindset is different. As per my perception, Bollywood is just another level platform to promote traditional indian dance, music and literature. I have a strong feeling that without Bollywood the absolute majority of people even in India would've known very less about Kathak, Bharatanatyam, ragas of classical hindustani music and the great historical facts about their own country. Bollywood does its job of spreading the knowledge about traditions and we should be thankful for that. Of course, there are always people who will critisize, but they should remember that Bollywood directors like Raj Kapoor, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Muzaffar Ali, Kamal Amrohi, K. Asif and a few others did a tremendous job to promote traditional Indian culture, while others just did nothing in that direction. Bollywood's task is to spread the knowledge and to inspire, so that the youth could know about the rich cultural heritage of their own country.
6. Tell us about what projects you have on and what you are looking forward to in 2017?
This year I continue traveling the world from Europe to Asia with my Kathak and Bollywood dance workshops and performances; I am also shooting for a series of Hindi/Punjabi music videos with big names involved.
This year I have already participated at a very big TV show – Russia's Got Talent - where I have performed a solo dance to a Telugu song, which was very important for me because I have Telugu and Russian roots, and at the same show I performed my first duet with a male kathak dancer – Kumar Sharma – which hopefully the audience would love.
Thank you for the interview!
Thank you for the interview, Svetlana.
Check out her youtube videos
and more about her here