Sur And Tal: The Journey of Rimli Roy

Sur And Tal: The Journey of Rimli Roy
Rimli Roy, the founder of Surati for Performing Arts , Photo Credit: Surati for Performing Arts

Founder and artistic director of Surati for Performing Arts in Jersey City, a look at Rimli Roy’s dance journey

OT Staff
July 15 , 2019
05 Min Read

Born into a family of musicians, Rimli’s tryst with dance began way before she could walk with confidence. Sur and tal were ubiquitous in her home in Kolkata, where she heard the first notes of aalap from her father Sumit Roy, who is known as Calypso King and the Nat King Cole of India. Not only a strong foundation was laid for a passionate commitment for a life in the arts but also the name for Rimli’s dream child ‘Surati’ (meaning: melody in excess) was born. Surati is the combination of the names of Rimli's parents, father Sumit and mother Arati, but as luck would have it, it also includes letters from her brother's name Rajesh, who is a highly accomplished music composer. The three are the biggest influences in Rimli's life in the arts.

“A lot of my choreography has been set to my dad’s and brother’s compositions,” says Rimli, who also mentions that her mother has written many of those songs. “The costumes created over the past two decades are all my mom's hard work and creativity. From selecting fabric and getting them tailored to meet my design and requirements,” she adds.


Rimli (in front) backstage during the Incredible India roadshow in NYC

As an artist, choreographer, producer, and director trained in three distinctly different dance forms–Odissi, Bharatnatyam and Manipuri, Rimli is now one of the foremost practitioners and teachers of Indian classical dance and classical based dance choreography in the New York City area. She began teaching classical dance to children as soon as she landed in the US in 1999. Like most Indian immigrants, Rimli’s day job was in the IT sector and she relegated her dancing to evenings and weekends. Until 9/11. Shaken and moved, she began volunteering for the affected individuals and families that led to some introspection and rethinking her career path.

Rimli founded Surati for Performing Arts in the year 2002 and has galvanized a team to create an award-winning performing, entertainment, event and arts education company based in Jersey City. In her minimalistic studio overlooking the Manhattan skyline, she continuously works on creating dance and musical performances that transcend styles, schools, and traditions. The same eclectic range epitomises the shows Rimli has choreographed, led and performed in prestigious venues like the United Nations Headquarters, Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Lincoln Center in NYC, Reichhold Center at the U.S Virgin Islands, Alaska Performing Arts Center and many in India.

She is constantly at work training new dancers and musicians, and partnering with various organisations in the tri-state area to take arts to the community:

>Ramaavan–A Musical (the story of Ram and Ravan) is Rimli’s original take on the epic tale Ramayana, performed on stage for a global audience. A Broadway style musical, Ramaavan is an evolving theatrical experience with a multicultural, diverse cast and crew from around the world. The story is retold in English through traditional and experimental Indian dance, drama and music, Shakespearean style verse, musical theatre, poetry, opera, along with world genres like contemporary, jazz, ballet and modern. The production features Rimli's original concept, choreography, prop and costume design. The script, lyrics and musical score are also original, written and composed by her family members. Ramaavan was performed to sold out shows in downtown Jersey City. Preparations are underway to take it to larger audiences around the country and also to India.

Ramaavan–A Musical is an evolving theatrical experience

>The largest waterfront Holi celebration in the tri-state area. In 2012, more than 3000 people participated to herald Holi for the first time in Exchange Place in Jersey City. Since then, the festival has grown from strength to strength. In 2019, Holi was celebrated in Hoboken, NJ with over 12,000 colour-drenched fans joining in for the celebrations following a Hudson River Color Walk from Jersey City to Hoboken.

Surati Holi Hai-Color walk revellers in Jersey City with musicians

>The Lights of Diwali celebrations in Hudson County starting with the Hoboken Diwali that set new standards in taking Indian culture mainstream. Welcoming a diverse range of artists, who call the region home, the event threw open doors to performers from all art groups representing genres from around the world.

>The Surati Summer Fest and International Children’s festival brings children of the entire Hudson County to join in a celebration of arts and culture.

Despite all the high profile artistry, Rimli is firmly grounded in her roots, seeking her family for advice and support every time. “I owe it to my mom for recognising my passion and getting me to take formal training. She even made me attend dance theory classes during playtime,” Rimli fondly recalls of her childhood in her hometown Kolkata.

Surati is a massive project and the support system is extremely important. While Rimli's husband, Jayanta Banerjee, built and still supervises the website and logistics, he is also senior vice president at an American multinational investment bank. He has always been passionate about the arts, and is a talented musician. Rimli's daughter, Rijah, is a singer-songwriter and visual artist who studies music and trains in Indian dances. She helps the younger students with vocals and dance. The staff, volunteers and artists involved with Surati have tremendously helped the organisation grow to where it is today.

A recipient of numerous awards and grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, New Jersey State Tourism and the Hudson County Office of Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Rimli Roy and Surati have become synonymous with the celebrations of the region’s cultural diversity.  

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