STEM Dance Kampani

Opera House, Wellington

28/07/2007 - 28/07/2007

Production Details

Director/ Choreographer: Madhu Nataraj

Beautiful motifs of traditional Indian dance collide with experiments in rhythm, design and original music, flowing together to form STEM Dance Kampani’s world famous signature style.

STEM (Space Time Energy Movement) began in 1995, to explore and create new expressions in dance. Today, it has emerged as one of India’s leading contemporary Indian dance companies, recognized for its lyrical and dynamic performances both in India and abroad.

STEM ‘s Founder- Director/ Choreographer, Madhu Nataraj believes that, “dance needs to move away from the shackles of rigidity to become more meaningful”, so STEM strives to create a dance vocabulary which explores the limitless possibilities of the human form.

Madhu Nataraj studied Kathak (a traditional Indian dance form with strong theatrical roots) from her mother, internationally acclaimed Kathak dancer/choreographer Guru Maya Rao, and from Smt. Chitra Venugopal and Guru Munna Shukla.

Madhu graduated with distinction from the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography and has done her post graduation in Journalism. She was initiated into Contemporary Dance by Betty Jones, Sara Pearson, Karen Potter, Jose Limon centre and trained in New York. Madhu believes that tradition and modernity need to co exist and that reflects in her Dance ideology.

Dance , Contemporary dance , Solo ,

Needs to delve much deeper

Review by Jan Bolwell 29th Jul 2007

The performance by STEM Dance Kampani from Bangalore is a rare happening for New Zealand. While we have become accustomed to the fine artistry of Vivek Kinra’s Bharata Natyam concerts and to Bollywood dancing in the annual Divali Festival, Indian contemporary dance is an unknown entity.

STEM (Space Time Energy Movement) was formed in 1995 by director/ choreographer Madhu Nataraj, a graduate of the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography. The press release tells us that STEM is one of India’s leading contemporary dance companies and has performed extensively in India and abroad.

It is immediately evident that the six dancers’ main movement training is in traditional Indian rather than contemporary dance styles. There is a lack of mobility in the torso, and the dancers never look entirely balanced when attempting contemporary dance movements. The most successful works on the two-hour programme are those that relate most closely to Kathak and to Indian martial arts.

With no written programme, a middle aged Indian woman, self-described as "a garrulous old biddy", introduces each work. The overlong introductions and shameless eulogising over each work make for a fractured evening of dance. The information we required could have been supplied in three or four well worded paragraphs on a piece of A4 paper.

The acronym STEM references Madhu Nataraj’s American dance training. One of her teachers, Sara Pearson worked with dance veteran Murray Louis whose whole approach was based upon the abstract movement concepts of space, time, and energy. In the hands of Nataraj these concepts become somewhat didactic and formulaic. The use of choreographic structures and devices is rudimentary and crudely put together.

One feels this is a choreographer just at the beginning of a working process. In order for a successful fusion of traditional Indian and western contemporary dance forms to be effectively realised, she needs to delve much deeper.

The choreography and performance is not helped by often irrelevant and overuse of projections and an appalling lighting design. 

Having made these criticisms I am still pleased to have seen STEM Kampani and I acknowledge the courage and commitment it takes to attempt the fusion of disparate dance traditions. For the almost exclusively Indian audience it provided a stimulating and possibly provocative insight into one aspect of dance in present day India. 


Was he a Crim August 17th, 2007

To post the dopest comment, I propose this... Compose some prose with little common - sense and more horse isht. Blogging clogs up the content's conglomery, so let's flog the golf backwards, log on and come follow me...

Aaron Alexander August 17th, 2007

I'm sure ijaz was taking poetic license, but for anyone who's interested, from a great wordnerds site:

human lexicon August 17th, 2007

arterial, articulate

Moya Bannerman August 16th, 2007

Bollocks! "Art" is neither a phase nor phrase and it has nothing to do with being arbitrary. Quite the opposite. Think artifice, artisan, artful ...

Ijaz Freejazz August 16th, 2007

The word "art" is derived from the phase "arbitrary". It never makes sense, and you can bet my bottom dollar, it doesn't make much cents. So let's STEM the flow of non-science... without prejudice (without prejudice... without prejudice)

Raewyn Whyte August 5th, 2007

Another review of this production - by Mark James hamilton - can be read at

madhu nataraj August 4th, 2007

Iam the choreographer in question.. I was appalled to read this reviewer's comments. having toured 30 countries and taken both bouquets and brickbats in my stride, I still feel the need to correct disjointed and biased views on contemporary Indian dance. Firstly STEM stands for movement- precepts of choreography...universally, not belonging to the western world alone. It also stems from concepts of the Panchahoota( which encompasses the name stem) and the Indian philosophy of non duality or as my assistant director Ramya has clearly pointed out about stage design, choreography as a process too was documented 2000 years ago in the Natya Shastra in India. Whyare western critics so averse to contempporary Indian dance. Its an almost neo colonalistic attitude of not wanting to see development in an Indian context. tradition is meant to evolve not get'pickled' and slotted as'pure' and 'pristine' and why make a comparison with Vivek Khendra? Most of us in the active Indian dance circles had never heard of him.Iam proud of any Indian who spreads awareness of our dance heritage in India and overseas. But why compare the idioms of western contemporary and Bharatanatyam to our style which is so individualistic. Our dancers have been trained by the finest Gurus and both our dancing and my choreography has been duly acknowledged by the Gurus, respected critics in India and ovrseas. My suggestion to the reviewer. Please experience some quality Indian dance rather than getting information off the net and from half baked dancers sitting next to you in an audience space. I do realise that the compare rambled a bit and that we should have passed on a programme note to ebb some confusion and to present our dance ideas with more clarity. If ones critique is constructive, Iam more than happy to absorb the suggestions and in this case too have taken some points as valid but most as caustic and coming with an agenda

Ramya Nagaraj August 2nd, 2007

hi this is for who ever has written the article the whole concept about calling the company as contemporary is that we are focusing on creating ssomething new using our indian dance and not at all to use the western dance at all and i have to tell u that the concept of having a procenium stage and lighting is not at all western it is very much indian i dont know if u have read about the sanskrit theaters which india had got about 2000 years ago and it is very much there in the books if u want to talk more about we using a westernised stage then i guess u should please read natya shatra a book on dance drama stage and lighting design which is much more older than the western culture i would like to know what contemporary dance is then mail back to me thank you

Afreen Rahman July 31st, 2007

I must excuse you for your ignorance of Indian dance and theatre. You went there with a closed mind and I can't forcefully open it. Stage design and lighting are now western concepts!! Thank you anyway for coming for the show.

Jan Bolwell July 30th, 2007

The choreographer clearly signals her intention to utilise western dance ideas by using the acronym STEM to name her company. The work is presented on a proscenium arch stage using western lighting and design technology. The choreographic structures employed clearly relate to western rather than traditional Indian dance traditions. Small wonder then that a reviewer might conclude that some attempt at a fusion of dance cultures was taking place.

Rahman July 29th, 2007

I feel the reviewer has got it completely wrong that Madhu was trying to fuse western and Indian movements. Madhu's interview in Concert FM clearly mentioned that she came back from the US because she did not want her dance movements to be representative of western movements. The STEM Dance Kampni explores traditional Indian dance movements and martial arts to find a new language that is Indian and presents modern India which lives side by side its tradition. It seems the reviewer implies that if Indian Contemporary Dance does not include western dance movements then it is not contemporary. Not using western dance movements does not mean that one cannot be modern. Does the reviewer think otherwise? I can't blame the reviewer since she might not have had the opportunity to see any other dance forms from India other than cheesy Bollywood and Classical Bharatnatyam in Wellington.

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