Ragamala Dance Company, Directors: Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, Choreographic Associate: Ashwini Ramaswamy
Pangea World Theater, Directors: Meena Natarajan and Dipankar Mukherjee
For more than 25 years, Pangea World Theater has created timely and urgent art-activist theatrical works in Minnesota. Through their multi-disciplinary productions and outreach, Pangea does on-the-ground work to heal and strengthen the community. At the helm of Pangea are spouses Meena Natarajan, Executive/Artistic Director, and Dipankar Mukherjee, Artistic Director.
“Working with family is being in an unconditional creative support system. It also comes with ferocious honesty and affirmation,” says Dipankar. “We are both culturally rooted and also believe fiercely in spaces of solidarity. Our common hunger to search for what we do not know and exploration in the area of our chosen field helps us create a space of listening to each other.”
Meena and Dipankar first connected in their teen years through their shared love of theater. In a Star Tribune interview with journalist Rohan Preston about becoming this year’s McKnight Distinguished Artist, Dipankar says, “This award is also for Meena, who has been there every step of the way.”
Nirmala Rajasekar, Shruthi Rajasekar, and Naadharasa
One of the world’s top Saraswati veena players, Nirmala Rajasekar splits her time between Minnesota and India when not touring elsewhere. She serves as Co-Chair of the American Composers Forum. Nirmala’s organization Naadharasa is a music learning center and a community outreach nonprofit. Her daughter Shruthi, a composer and vocalist, is following in her footsteps.
“I always saw Shruthi’s keen interest in music, but being her mother and her teacher, I felt it important to let her find her passion, artistic voice, and choice of career on her own,” says Nirmala.
“A lot of my learning happened informally,” says Shruthi. “As a child, I would accompany my mother to her rehearsals in town with Ragamala, with Pangea, with Ananya Dance, Katha Dance, Aniccha Arts. I grew up watching a lot of strong women make strong art.”
Nirmala adds, “Wherever I make music with my family — on stage with Shruthi or at home with my multi-talented son Neeraj — it is pure joy.”
“Performing with my mother today is both thrilling and daunting,” Shruthi says. “She is my guru, after all! What’s very special, though, is getting to watch this person I adore from an up-close vantage point— to sit right next to her and see her enter the zone. Few daughters have the privilege of seeing their mothers in all of their shades: nurturing at home, and powerful at work. I treasure this view immensely.”