Smt.Aswathy Nair and Shri.N.Srikanth are Bharatnatyam exponents who have enchanted their audiences with their unique storytelling on stage .Made possible through years of dedication, clever choreography and harmonised performance that connects with the audience at home or abroad. They shone as solo artists before starting their duets from 2001 attracting critical and popular acclaim. Their creations tackle topical issues like deforestation, AIDS, gender dysphoria etc. which are most challenging to depict in classical dance styles.
Srikanth trained in Bharatanatyam under several illustrious Gurus, including Sri.Shanmugasundaram Pillai, Dr.Saraswati. He had Gurukulam style tutorship under Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam where he mastered the art of Natya including 108 Karanas recounted by Bharathamuni in Natyashastra.
Apart from his leading lady Aswathy, Srikanth has also performed with renowned dancers like Dhananjayans, Narasimacharis, Chitra Visweswaran to name a few.
In Bhagavata Mela, an all male dance drama tradition of Tanjavur, Srikanth’s portrayal of Sita and Devaki won him accolades including the Dept of Culture. Srikanth is adept at balancing Lasya and Thandava and innovating his Bharatnatyam performances .He also lectures at Kerala Kalamandalam.
Aswathy is the multitalented daughter of celebrated parents .Her mother Smt. Kalamandalam Saraswathy was her first guru .She was tutored in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi and Carnatic music. In 1999 her future husband Srikanth started instructing her in Bharatanatyam, a genre she has been specialising for the last decade. Ambitious choreography, uncompromising adherence to tradition topped with unique sensibility summarises Aswathy’s performances.
Daughter of the legend, Shri M.T.Vasudevan Nair, Aswathy has inherited his flair for literature and has a few publications under her belt.
The couple are A-Grade artists of Doordarshan, and for Govt. of India and have performed in the most prestigious festivals of India as well as in 16 foreign countries.
Srikanth and Aswathy are now engaged in passing on their legacy to their students at Nrityalaya Kozhikode and in the US.
The couple are humanitarians to the core .They played active role in supporting the struggling performance artists during the floods of 2018 and the Covid pandemic both financially and with their manpower.
Mahabharata the great epic from 4th century BCE was ahead of our times .The illustrations of various emotions are both traditional and futuristic. One of them that stands apart and is well aligned with the psyche of contemporary times is gender fluidity. Samavesha portrays Shikhandi and Brihannala.
Gender Identity and Gender Expression seem to vary in the same character either for pure survival or for the accomplishment of purpose. It is inspiring to see these characters remain true to their conscience despite the extreme emotional turbulences created by the transitions.
Amba, the princess of Kashi, is reborn as Shikhandi, to accomplish her vow to be the reason for the death of Bheeshma. This story involves Shikandi’s variations in gender expression, the intense mental and physical turmoil associated with it, and finally having a biological sex exchange with a Yaksha to a Trans man to attain her goal, almost akin to the gender reassignment surgery of our times.
Arjuna (man) assumes some female gender expression and transforms into Brihannala, the talented dancer. His purpose- to remain incognito during the final year of the exile. The transformation actually happened as a result of Urvashi’s curse to change him into a eunuch. This turned out to be a ‘blessing in disguise’ for Arjuna, who may have been recognised in any other role due to his distinctive valour in which perhaps masculinity played a significant role. As Brihannala, Arjuna assumes ‘tritya prakriti’, which essentially translates as Non-Binary, a form of gender expression where you are not committed to either gender and yet have an amalgamation of behavioural patterns of either sex.
Shikhandi and Brihannala pave the way in bringing the glorious Bheeshma to his death in the great battle of Kurukshetra, thus fulfilling their destiny.
Srikanth portrays the turmoil within Arjuna, an exceptional warrior who is forced into living the life of a eunuch following the curse of the celestial dancer Urvashi .Brihannala(Arjuna) is deeply anxious whether her brothers, the mighty Pandavas and his dearest friend Krishna would accept her in this form? Srikanth presents the mental torment of Brihannala, his discordant emotions of a stoic masculine self with a feminine exterior who is completely perceptive to the surroundings. Finally Brihannala reveals her true self as she agrees to help prince Uttara in the war as charioteer.
Aswathy’s presentation is Mohiniyattom based. Amba, born as the daughter of the king of Kashi, faces rejection from her lover Prince Salwa and from Bheeshma and hence in a state of utter despair .She prays to Lord Shiva who grants her desire to be reborn as a man in her next life to seek revenge on Bheeshma .She ends her life and is reborn as Shikhandini, who is raised as a male .She is however discovered on her wedding night and shamed .Fraught with despair she leaves home and enters a forbidden forest which is the abode of Yaksha. Pleased with her severe penance the Yaksha swaps sex thus granting her manhood. Shikandi emerges and is ready to take revenge upon Bheeshma.
1997 -YUVA KALA BHARATHI
1998 – TAMILNADU IYAL ISAI NATAKA MANDRAM AWARD
2000 – TALENT PROMOTION AWARD, NARADA GANA SABHA, CHENNAI
2001 – AWARD OF EXCELLENCE
2005 – LAKSHMI VISWANATHAN ENDOWMENT AWARD, CHENNAI
2005 – PANDANALLUR SHANMUGA SUNDARAM PILLAI MEMORIAL AWARD
2006 – NARTANA KISHORA SUNDARAM, CHENNAI
2009 – MUDRALAYA AWARD FOR NATTUVANGAM, KRISHNA GANA SABHA, CHENNAI
2010 – BISMILLAH KHAN YUWA PURASKAR (Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi)
2010 – BHAGAVAT SEVA MANI, KANCHI MUTT.
2012 – ROTARY AWARD FOR VOCATIONAL EXCELLENCE, KOZHIKODE
2012 – BEST MALE DANCER AWARD (ABHAI), CHENNAI
2018 – BINFIELD TRUST ENDOWMENT, NARADA GANA SABHA, CHENNAI
2019 – MALLIKA SARABHAI MEMORIAL AWARS, KERALA
2022 – DR SARASWATHI AWARD, VIPANCHEE, CHENNAI
2010 – YUVA KALA BHARATHI (CHENNAI)
2013 – KALA RATNA (DEPT OF TOURISM & CULTURE, GOVT OF KERALA)
2018 – MAYILPEELI AWARD (SHIVOHAM TRUST, KANNUR)
2018 – BINFIELD TRUST ENDOWMENT, NARADA GANA SABHA, CHENNAI
2018 – KERALA SANGEETHA NATAKA ACADEMY AWARD, THRISSUR.
2019 – MALLIKA SARABHAI MEMORIAL AWARD, KERALA