First Day: The Indian actor bringing traditional dance and theatre to Australia

It looks like a regular classroom – a whiteboard hangs on an off-white coloured wall, chairs stacked neatly in the corner.

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And then class begins.

The signature beat of a Bollywood song bounces off the walls. Girls wearing saris in shades of green and purple walk in, their jewellery so big it’s rattling. It’s the Abhinay School of Performing Arts in Sydney’s south.

At the back of the classroom Aishveryaa Nidhi, the school’s artistic director and president, claps in time with the music.  

“Abhinay is a Sanskrit word and it means, ‘The art of expression,'” she says. “It could be in the form of dancing, acting or music and we formed Abhinay to promote art and culture from the India sub-continent.”

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Ms Nidhi has been dancing and acting since she was a young girl living in New Delhi. Her mother encouraged her to learn kathak – a form of Indian classical dance – but as she grew older they didn’t encourage it as a career path.

Eventually, she decided to move to Australia in 2001 to give her children more opportunities.

“I was very excited to be here. We were going to start a new life,” she says.

The heat came as a shock to Ms Nidhi’s family when they landed, as did living on the other side of the equator.

“We always used to hear that Australia celebrates Christmas in Summer. And I always thought they were celebrating in June. I didn’t realise that summer is in December here,” she says.

Theatre

Since arriving, Ms Nidhi has worked for the Sydney Theatre Company and Opera Australia on different projects, and participated in a number of festivals.

In 2005 she gave a solo performance called Gandhari, playing 14 different characters. It premiered at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney and was toured across India.

“There are a lot more opportunities to work in India, in theatre, television and even Bollywood,” she says.

“But I’m happy with what I’ve got here, I feel very fortunate.”

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Determined not to lose her connection to New Delhi, Ms Nidhi formed Abhinay School of Performing Arts in 2009 as a not-for-profit.

The school oversees many productions produced by Indian and non-Indian writers and producers, but specialises in promoting Hindi language. Each year, the school holds a festival dedicated to 10-minute plays in Hindi.

Ms Nidhi says the school allows her to keep a strong connection to home.

“It’s about preserving the culture and bringing India closer to Australia. And it’s also about our next generation, learning our language and giving them a platform to perform in Hindi,” she says.

“My passion is to promote our stories, our Indian-Australian stories.”

This story was produced as part of the SBS series, First Day, airing on SBS World News throughout January.