Arts / Performing Arts

Houston Middle Schooler and Her Guru Mom’s Remarkable Dance Journey Gets the Movie Treatment

Filmmaker With SMU Ties Tells the Type of Story That Others Overlook

BY // 10.16.21

Kaavya Rajarathnam might seem like just any other Houston middle schooler at first glance. She loves binging the entire Harry Potter series, competing with the all-boys robotic team and playing with her pet guinea pig. But this young girl is also preparing for an arangetram, a two hour solo in classical dance. 

After watching the oldest form of Indian dance called Bharatanatyam at MATCH in 2019, filmmaker Dan Gordon was inspired to make a documentary about this beautiful form of art. And Kaavya and her mom soon became the focus.

Gordon studied theater at SMU, graduating in 2006. From New York to West Africa, he has lived all over the world, developing a passion for telling people’s unique stories. Gordon has worked on several short films focusing on topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic and a brother mentoring program. He also created Take the Stage where he currently produces stage education videos for kids. 

His newest movie Kaavya delves intthe special bond between dance teacher guru Lavanya Rajagopalan and her daughter Kaavya as they prepare for the girl’s arangetram.

While most dancers debut this intricate stage show between the ages of 16 and 18, Kaavya had her performance at just 12-years-old. She has been dancing since she was five and begun training for her arangetram at age 10. This young dancer received special permission from her mother’s guru to do her arangetram this early. 

The documentary highlights the challenges and pressures that Kaavya navigates up until the night before the big day. Each motion in Bharatanatyam illustrates a specific meaning, and when those moves are connected they depict ancient stories from Hindu mythology. 

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This choreography has been passed down over many generations, which makes Kaavya’s arangetram so exceptional.

Dan Gordon’s documentary called “Kaavya” depicts the unique bond between a dance teacher and her daughter as they prepare for the most important event in Kaavya’s training. (Photo by Mitava Sarkar)
Dan Gordon’s documentary called “Kaavya” depicts the unique bond between a dance teacher and her daughter as they prepare for the most important event in Kaavya’s training. (Photo by Amitava Sarkar)

“As an outsider, I have learned that the guru student relationship alone is very special because of the lifelong bond that is often developed and maintained well into adulthood,” Gordon says. “Though In Kaavya’s case, the bond is already established as her guru is her own mother. And her situation is unique in that dance rehearsals often occur in the family living room in addition to the dance studio.”

Kaavya feels immense pressure to meet her mother’s expectations because Rajagopalan was a professional Indian dancer growing up and is now a respected guru in the dance community. Even when Kaavya leaves her mother’s dance studio, Silambam Houston Dance Company, she continues to rehearse her arangetram in her mind. 

Rajagopalan does not only have high expectations for her daughter, but also for all of her students at the studio.

“If you ask anyone at Silambam, they will say that Rajagopalan is warm but rigorous because she wants to build a strong foundation for her students,” Gordon tells PaperCity. “She’s the kind of teacher that students remember and are grateful for years after she teaches them.”

Despite the global pandemic postponing her performance and not having her grandparents be able to travel to Houston for show day, Kaavya beautifully adjusts to the new circumstances and still performs to the best of her abilities. 

“This documentary is not about performing during COVID-19, but rather it is an obstacle that Kaavya has to overcome in order to succeed at her arangetram,” Gordon says. 

There will be a screening for Kaavya on December 21 at the Asia Society Texas Center as part of the museum’s children’s film festival. People can support the final production of this film through the film’s website. 

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