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The Netra Center for Arts and Culture teaches those ages four and up. (Sameer Yagnik photo)

The Netra Center for Arts and Culture teaches those ages four and up. (Sameer Yagnik photo)

SAN MATEO, Calif., United States

Some 300 people gathered at the San Mateo College theater here May 12 for a dazzling array of Indian dance and music at the first anniversary performance of the Netra Center for Arts and Culture.

The colorful four-hour show, which was free to the public, featured various styles of south and north Indian dance and music ranging from the theatrical Kathakali, which told the story of Krishna and the demon Pootna, to Kathak and devotional kirtans. There was also a high tea for guests of honor Consul General of India in San Francisco N. Parthasarathi and Dr. Sanjay Shantaram, founder of the Shivapriya School of Dance in Bangalore, who helped with a diya-lighting ceremony.

But the star of the show was the woman behind it: instructor Deepa Menon (see image – below), who single-handedly started Netra and teaches dance at the center three days a week. The Indian American dancer began training her students in December for the big show, and made a ten-day trip to Hyderabad just to pick out material for the costumes — spending, at one point, eight hours in a shop with her five year-old daughter.

A collage of Netra founder Deepa Menon performing Kuchipudi, a dance from Andhra Pradesh that involves balancing on a plate. (Avni Nijhawan)

A project like this, she said, is “like your child. It’s very rewarding,” she told India-West. “At the end I couldn’t speak because I was so choked with tears.”

After the show, she said she was flooded with texts and e-mails congratulating her. “I never imagined in my wildest dreams I would get such a response,” she said.

Both Parthasarathi and Shantaram praised the show during the interval, and Parthasarathi spoke of the importance of continuing Indian art forms in America.

“After seeing such rich performances for the last one and half hours, I wonder who can call India a poor country when we have such riches?” said Parthasarathi. “We have everything in India, but the only thing is when we are in India we take most of these thigns for granted.”

Shantaram, who taught Menon some dances but had never seen her perform, said, “I enjoyed the innocence portrayed by the youngsters, and I enjoyed the professionalism established by the experienced dancers. I want to see Deepa celebrating a 25th anniversary with the same joy and happiness.”

The show cost around $15,000 to produce, she said, which Menon and her husband mostly funded themselves.

“I’m an artist, not a businesswoman,” she told India-West with a laugh, although she said that they would have to find outside funding in the future if there was going to be a show next year.

Menon created the Foster City, Calif. center as a community space to bring people together around Indian dance and art, and originally created the company three years ago. However, she expanded the program and moved to her own studio in 2011, marking a new beginning for the center.

There were around 40 performers in the show. (Sameer Yagnik photo)

There were around 40 performers in the show. (Sameer Yagnik photo)

At 36, Menon is an experienced dancer and painter getting a master’s in figurative painting at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and teaches several classes at her studio along with a handful of other instructors. Young and adult students can take dance and music classes like Kuchipudi, Bharathanatyam, Mohiniattam and Carnatic music. She also plans to offer painting classes starting in June.

For more information on Netra, visit