Sreyashi Dey is President and Artistic Director of Akshara, an Ann Arbor-based multi-cultural, multi-arts organization founded by Dey and Dr. Paroma Chatterjee that presents arts inspired by India. Dey is also a classical Odissi dancer, and holds an MS in Economics and an MBA from Purdue.
How do you see the arts fitting into daily life?
I have never had a life without dance. My formal training started when I was seven years old, but even before that, I would just put on music and dance. Through school, college, grad school, through everything, dance has always been a part of me. No matter what I’ve done, it’s been a parallel career, and not just a little hobby on the side, but a very serious activity. In 2000, I formed my first arts organization to formalize all the dance work that I was doing, creating performing seasons and touring seasons and putting on presentations.
What made you decide to turn your personal artistic practice into an organization?
Especially with Indian performing arts, there’s a very long period of learning and education. It’s a very complex art form, and a lot of it is transmitted through personal interactions. Also, it’s centuries old, so there is a lot of accumulated knowledge and experience. You can’t learn for a year or two and be an expert. There’s a kind of humility about it: I’m not so great that I can do my own thing, I’m still learning. But everybody has to find their own point where they feel comfortable enough to start doing their own thing. So that’s when I thought it’d be good to start my own organization, and to start doing things, little by little, in my own way.
What inspired you and Dr. Chatterjee to begin Akshara and the Rasa Festival?
The Southeast Michigan area has a large Indian community that has a lot of performing arts and other events, but we noticed that those are in many cases restricted to the immigrant community. On the other hand, there was a lot of interest in the Indian arts in the Ann Arbor/ Ypsilanti areas, but nobody was making the effort to reach out to the larger community. So, we have partnered with a lot of local organizations for our festival. We have presented events at the Kerrytown Concert House, at Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti, Washtenaw Community College, Literati Bookstore, White Lotus Farms, the Ann Arbor Art Center. It was important for us tonot just present Indian artists, but also to reach across cultures and across racial lines and be a platform for anyone who’s interested in Indian arts, irrespective of their country of origin.
What do you see on the horizon for Akshara? How would you like to see it expand?
We started reasonably big, with close to twenty events over 4-6 weeks. So we’re not necessarily trying to get even bigger, but what we would like to do is continue to produce thoughtful programs and reach out so that even more people who have not been exposed to these arts can attend, ask questions, and find something that sparks some kind of curiosity or dialogue. That’s more the objective.
What is your message for the community?
When people haven’t seen Indian dance before, they’re often really kind of blown away by how beautiful and graceful, how deep and meaningful, it all is. My message would be: come check us out.
The Rasa Festival is Saturday, June 15 from 3:00pm-5:30pm at the Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St., Ypsilanti.
Tickets are $25 for the general public, and $15 for students and seniors.
Tickets available at https://a2tix.com/events/rasa-dance-and-theater-festival.
The Rasa Festival continues on Saturday, September 21,
at Towsley Auditorium at Washtenaw Community College.
Check rasafestival.org for more details.