Navtej Singh Johar, one of India’s leading dancers and choreographers is also a yoga exponent and an urban activist. A Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee in Contemporary Choreography, his practice traverses freely between the traditional and the contemporary, twines critical theory, practice and social action, focuses upon the materiality of body, and attempts to challenge and disable the “idealisms” that inform our embodied practices as well as the envisioning of our body-insensitive Indian cities.
As a Performer:
Trained in Bharatnatyam at Rukmini Devi Arundale’s Kalakshetra, Chennai, and with Leela Samson at the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, New Delhi, he later pursued a degree in Cultural Anthropology at the Department of Performance Studies, New York University. An artist of international repute, he has performed at prestigious venues both nationally and internationally and has a number of international collaborations to his name with several prominent companies and choreographers, including The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, The Chandralekha Group, Leela Samson’s “Spanda”, Peter Sparling, Yoshiko Chuma, Alan Lommasson, John Shack, Justin McCarthy, Janet Lilly, Keith Khan, Hiroshi Miyamoto, Muzaffer Ali, Anna Birch, and Ben J Riepe and Kompanie. He has collaborated with composers Stephen Rush, Shubha Mudgal, as well visual artists Sheeba Chachi and Ravinder Reddy, and has acted in films by Deepa Mehta and Sabiha Sumar. Performance director of the Commonwealth Parade for the Queen's Golden Jubilee Celebrations, at London, in June 2002 he has also danced with the New York City Opera.
A long time student and practitioner of yoga, Johar trained in Patanjali yoga at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai, under the guidance of Sri. T.K.V Desikachar. A yoga teacher since 1985, Johar’s approach is fluid and adaptable as he freely merges asana, pranayama, visualisation, mediation, and Vedic chanting. In 2016, he devised the BARPS method of asana practice that progressively involves the principles of bracing, aligning, rotation of joints, poising of breath and finally stretching.
Johar’s choreography draws on plural vocabularies: Bharatanatyam, yoga, physical theatre and Somatics. Recognised as a cutting edge choreographer, his work is sensitive, compelling, witty, and layered. Apart from classical Bharatanatyam, it includes contemporary performance pieces—both solo and ensemble, which is now veering more into the direction of Somatics. He has several full length productions to his credit which have won critical acclaim, some of them being Meenakshi (2000), Sheer Fall (2003), Fana’a: Ranjha Revisited (2005), Dravya Kaya (2008), Mango Cherry Mix (2009), Grey is Also a Colour (2010), Charumathi Claire Singh (2012), Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (2012), Frenemies (2014). All these works explore and seek to establish the centrality of eroticism in determination of the self, investigate into the ideas that are abound about the body, identity and boundaries—cultural, class and gender—and comment upon the mutual exclusivity of identity-bolstering embodied practices and art-making.
In 2000, Johar founded Studio Abhyas, a non-profit organization dedicated to yoga, dance, urban activism, and the care of stray animals. Abhyas was made into a registered Trust in 2004. Apart from offering yoga classes and running a teachers training course, the studio offers a Somatics Training Course which draws upon traditional Indian practices of yoga and dance, and seeks to immerse embodied practice in the experience of sukha and rasa. The course also incorporates dance theory, history and critical studies. In addition, Johar also directs a humane-urbanism project, called the “The Power of Seeing Project” at various Delhi schools.
Scholarship: Johar is a recipient of the Times of India Fellowship 1995, Charles Wallace Fellowship 1999, he has taught at the University of Michigan, USA, is currently teaching faculty at the Department of Performing Arts, Ashoka University, Sonepat, India, and a research fellow at the “Interweaving Performance Cultures”, International Research Centre, Freie University, Berlin.