INITIATIVES & PROJECTS

LEELA DANCE COLLECTIVE 
Artistic Direction: Rina Mehta, Rachna Nivas, Seibi Lee 

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The Leela Dance Collective was founded in 2016 by Rina Mehta, Rachna Nivas and Seibi Lee, senior disciples of legendary kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das, along with leading kathak performers Sarah Morelli and Shefali Jain. It is the only one of its kind Indian-American dance company that brings together leading kathak artists from around the world representing a multitude of voices to articulate a claivision for kathak dance.

The collective is distinguished by an artistic practice that centers around collaboration and collective creativity and a body of work that is at once grounded in tradition and boldly innovative. The collective has garnered critical acclaim across the United States and internationally for its groundbreaking productions from SPEAK, a collaboration that brings together leading female artists in kathak and tap, to Son of the Wind, a traditional dance ballad based on India’s epic, the Ramayana. Past highlights include appearances at The Broad Stage, the Green Music Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, National Centre for Performing Arts (Mumbai), Maui Arts & Cultural Center, NC State LIVE, and more. The collective’s productions and performances have been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the Zellerbach Family Fund, the Esper Petersen Foundation, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and New Music USA.

LEELA YOUTH DANCE COMPANY
Artistic Direction: Rina Mehta

THE LEELA FOUNDATION
Founder: Rina Mehta

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Leela Youth Dance Company is an elite pre-professional performing group under the artistic direction of kathak artist and educator, Rina Mehta. The program champions excellence in kathak and serves as a platform for youth leadership development. Through world-class training and mentorship the program empowers teens to develop their voices and become advocates and ambassadors for Indian classical art and culture within their communities and in the world. LYDC has performed nationally in numerous prestigious festivals and venues including the WorldWideWomen's Girl's Festival, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Youth Festival, LA County's Annual Televised Holiday Celebration, and more. 

THE FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP

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The Leela Foundation is the first and only one-of-its-kind self-standing endowment for North Indian classical dance and music. The foundation was launched in 2016 and has successfully raised more than $600K in seed funding. The foundation aims to provide direct support to those cultural ambassadors and torch-bearers that will ensure the preservation and advancement of India’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. The Leela Endowment has garnered support from major philanthropists in the South Asian American community including the likes of Drs. Ushakant and Irma Thakkar, Dr. Jasvant and Mrs. Meera Modi, and Mr. and Mrs. Prabhu and Poonam Goel and began awarding artist fellowships in 2020. A full list of patrons and artist awards are provided on the Foundation website. 

LEELA FOUNDATION
Founder: Rina Mehta

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In 2013, kathak artist Rina Mehta was awarded the prestigious Fulbright scholarship to research the connection between dance and empowerment amongst young women from low-income families in Mumbai, India. The project utilized participatory research methodologies to document changes in perceived empowerment – an individual’s subjective view of the power and agency they possess – amongst young women as they participated in a six-month kathak dance training program. The project also examined the impact of dance education on self-esteem, academic achievement and social engagements – factors inextricably linked to empowerment. The study shed light on how dance education can be an especially powerful tool for helping young women actualize their potential, discover their own agency and voice and ultimately expand their possibilities. The study continues to serve as the foundation for curriculum development and educational initiatives in kathak dance. 

UPAJ
Director: Hoku Uchiyama | Producer: Antara Bhardwaj | Executive Producers: Rina Mehta, Center for Asian American Media

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Two very different artists share an uncommon bond through dance in this warm, fascinating account of the unlikely collaboration between 64-year-old Indian Kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das and 28 year old African American tap star Jason Samuels Smith. A tour across India captures a unique friendship that thrills, inspires and teaches us about cultural preservation and openness. UPAJ: Improvise was featured at numerous prestigious film festivals around the world including Dance Camera West, Mill Valley Film Festival, San Francisco Asian American Film Festival, the San Francisco South Asian Film Festival, and more. The film aired on PBS in 2014 and is now available to stream on Amazon Prime. UPAJ: Improvise is directed by Hoku Uchiyama and produced by Center for Asian American Media and Hindipendent Films. Additional production credits include Stephen Gong, Rina Mehta and Antara Bhardwaj.