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Padma Menon

Categorized in these topics: Baba Yaga Women in Collaboration

Padma Menon has enjoyed a diverse and highly successful career spanning dance performance, choreography, direction and lecturing for 25 years. Apart from her long career as a soloist, choreographer and teacher of traditional Kuchipudi dance, she has also been acclaimed for her unique approach in working with contemporary and modern dancers to create works inspired and influenced by her classical Indian dance training. She started training in Bharatha Natyam style of classical Indian dance in 1973 in Hyderabad in South India. A year later she began training in Kuchipudi, a theatrical dance style evolved from ancient Sanskrit Theatre. She performed her Arangetram or graduation solo recital in both styles in 1975. Since then, she has been dancing professionally in India and abroad. In 1976, Padma went to Madras to undertake intensive training in Kuchipudi from the renowned maestro and reviver of the style, Dr.Vempati Chinna Satyam, whose company was part of the Holland Dance Festival some years ago. Two years later she became a member of his dance company, attached to the Kuchipudi Art Academy in Madras. She played lead roles in Academy productions like "Srinivasa Kalyanam" and "Parijatham" and gave hundreds of performances all over India with the company. She was also invited by all the leading organisations in India for solo performances including the Madras December Dance Festival, The Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Delhi, The Music Academy, Madras, The Calcutta Dance Festival, The International Trade Fair Authority, Delhi and many others. She was acclaimed by audiences and critics as one of the top soloists in India in the Kuchipudi style. She is still called upon in India for her expertise whenever she visits. On a recent return visit to India, she gave a lecture demonstration with Dr.Vempati Chinna Satyam at the prestigious Krishna Gana Sabha in Madras on the use of acting in Kuchipudi style. She also presented a paper and performed with the Kuchipudi traditional families from the village of Kuchipudi at the first National Kuchipudi Conference held recently in Hyderabad in India.
Padma was a regular performer on television stations in Madras, Hyderabad and Trivandrum. She also featured as a guest artist in a film. Besides Kuchipudi and Bharatha Natyam, Padma has also trained in Mohini Atttam, another dance style from South India.

In 1989 Padma moved to Australia. The same year, her first major work in Australia had an unprecedented premiere at the prestigious National Gallery of Australia. She then continued creating work as a freelance choreographer. In 1992 the Kailash Dance Company led by her as Artistic Director was incorporated with funding from the Australian state and federal governments. The company soon established its reputation as the foremost non-western dance company in Australia. It had a wide touring program within Australia and was also funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Australia to represent the country overseas.

During this time, she also established one of the largest dance schools in Australia teaching Indian dance. The school had a comprehensive graduation syllabus as well as teacher training and professional career development programs. It grew to be a centre for Indian dance studies with its own library and magazine focussing on South Asian art called “Lekha”. Padma herself stopped teaching due to her choreographic commitments in 1995, but many of the graduates of the school continue to teach in centres across Australia as well as having professional careers in classical Indian dance.

Padma has always been interested in exploring the contemporary development of her classical training. Even while in India she had choreographed several short works where she explored the use of Indian dance in secular contexts. Through her company in Australia, she consistently examined the relevance of her work within its new time and place. From 1994, Padma began working with professional modern dancers. Padma developed a process that combined top professional dancers from India with the best of Australian modern performers to create work that still derived from and was influenced aesthetically and conceptually by her Indian dance training. The works during this time include "Relations 1", "Agni", "Relations 2" and "Relations 3".

In 1995 she collaborated with Meryl Tankard (Pina Bausch style) to create "Rasa" which premiered at the Adelaide International Festival of the Arts. Her 1994 work "Ramayana- A mother speaks" was the first non-western based work ( other than aboriginal dance) to be part of the National Festival of Australian Theatre. Padma was conferred the CriticsCircle Award for Dance in 1992, 1994 and 1996 in recognition of her services to dance. She was awarded Artist of the Year in October 1994. She was member of the inaugural ACT Cultural Council in 1992. She was also member of the Dance Committee of the Australia Council, the Federal Government's advisory body on arts funding. She has presented many papers including a discussion paper for the Government on the future direction of arts policy with regard to dance funding, on new directions in Indian dance for the Greenmill International Festival of Dance and many others. She has been the featured artist on the high profile program on Australian ABC network “ABC Review” in 1996 and many other national events like the “Vision of Kings” exhibition held by the National Gallery of Australia.

In 1996 the company was renamed Padma Menon Dance Theatre and was recognised as the state company in Canberra. Padma created two ground breaking works under the new name- "The Woman is for Burning" and "Laya- Women who Dare". The first explored the notion of fire as ritual and metaphor. The central image was that of the Indian ritual of Sati where the widow is burnt on her husband's funeral pyre. Padma's aim was to place the highly mythologised vocabulary of Indian dance in more "human" contexts and to thus reach to the core of its movement motivation. "Laya- Women who Dare " was a work that explored the place of women, their contained anger and pain. It also explored the love between women that can alleviate the emotional isolation of women's experiences. Both works were acclaimed by critics and audiences alike.

In 1998, Padma resigned from the company. She spent time in India studying Vedanta philosophy. She also researched and worked with Russell Dumas (post-modern dance) and Nigel Kellaway (theatre and movement director and Butoh exponent).

In 2000 she moved to The Netherlands. Here she has further deepened her work in creating an equal dialogue between modern and Indian dance vocabularies. Her central interest is the expression of the woman’s world in its wholeness. She is deeply committed to creating works that allow space for the manifestation of the spiritual and emotional experiences of women. In her first solo for herself created for the prestigious Cadance Festival of Modern Dance in The Netherlands, she made “Where Angels Fear to Tread” which presented the complex issues about the sexuality and loneliness of women as mothers. She has since made several works in The Netherlands like “Devi” for six women which explored the notion of the goddess in women, “Rudra” for Norwegian modern dancer Gunvor Karlsen which located the animist and primeval energy of the male God Rudra in a female body and “Fireborn” a solo for herself based on the story of the Bandit Queen of India, Phoolan Devi. Currently she is working on a duet with a singer and the acclaimed classical ballet dancer Raphaelle Delauney which will premiere in the international Holland Dance Festival in November. This work is based on the character of Ophelia from the Shakespearean play “Hamlet” and also brings in the symbolic associations we have today about the many issues around adolescent girls and the figure of Ophelia.

Padma has developed and continues to work on ways of embodying the unique and silent experiences of women. She also teaches classes for women combining her expertise in Yoga and kalaripayattu which is a martial art form from India which was also taught to women. In her teaching she uses all of these forms as well as Indian dance as a way of discovering the divinity of the feminine and manifesting it through the body.

Apart from her own classes she also gives special classes at the Rotterdam conservatorium of Music and Dance in ways of bridging modern and Indian dance forms. She is studying for her Masters Degree in Choreography at the Rotterdam Conservatorium.

Some quotes from recent reviews

"ability to move the audience to tears through sheer intensity of


The Financial Express India

"One of the most joyous performers of our time"

Indian Express India

"…passion that eludes most choreographers.."

The Canberra Times, Australia

"…a sublime experience…"

Vogue Australia

"…an exciting new dance vocabulary…"

The Canberra Times Australia

."…images shocking and beautiful to ponder…"

The Beat Magazine, Australia

" uncompromising…controlled…evocative…"

The Muse Magazine, Australia


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