Nrithya Pillai is a dancer, dance composer, singer, writer, speaker, and dance instructor who proudly claims her hereditary nattuvanar-devadasi lineage. Artistic Director of Rajarathnalaya, a bharathanatyam institution founded by her maternal grandfather Swamimalai Rajarathnam Pillai, she consciously preserves and reanimates the rich repertoire and the teaching and choreographic practices of her celebrated ancestors, who include Vaitheeswarankoil Meenakshisundaram Pillai, T.K Swaminatha Pillai and Padmashri Vazhuvoor B. Ramiah Pillai.
Epitomizing the teacher-nattuvanar of the hereditary paramparais, and carving out her own space as a performer with impeccable training and vast creativity, Nrithya nevertheless represents a new kind of artistic and intellectual engagement with the troubled history of bharatanatyam in the long 20th century. She vigorously challenges the power relationships and ideologies that made the form unavailable to women of her community, and advocates fiercely for the restoration of credit for bharatanatyam technique, repertoire, and philosophy to the hereditary isaivellala community of practitioners.
Her performances and her writings about the upper caste appropriation of this form, which have evoked both enthusiastic accolades and awards on the one hand and vicious resistance on the other, are at once embodied research, political intervention, and a labour of abiding love towards the traditional custodians of the form--especially towards her foremothers, who include the remarkable Tiruvalaputtur Kalyani. Nrithya’s voice, raised against casteism in the contemporary dance world, is unique in the field today, and her message against historical misrepresentation is relevant and powerful.