Gina Lalli, who advocated South Asian dance and other art forms in Austin for decades, died of complications from pneumonia Saturday morning at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. She was 89.
A performer, teacher and mentor, Lalli was born and grew up in Binghamton, N.Y. She studied acting at the City College of New York and the New School. After becoming interested in northern and southern Indian dance, she studied those theatrical forms during three extended visits — for a total of 38 months — to the subcontinent starting in 1955.
Although she suffered from many maladies, she had planned a performance for October 2018.
“Gina Lalli is perhaps the single most important factor for Austinites' familiarity with Indian dance,” Anuradha Naimpally, also active in the local dance scene for decades, wrote in 1998. Lalli “trained in India with Bharata Natyam and Kathak teachers (and) was one of the first professional dancers of an Indian style to settle in Austin.”
Since her arrival in 1971, Lalli had given countless solo dance concerts. She wrote plays for the Bastrop Opera House and performed with Zach Theatre as well as Sally Jacques' and José Bustamante's dance troupes.
She also appeared in several films, including the cult classic “Slacker.”
In 2003, Lalli was inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.
“My life has been blessed to know Gina Lalli and to be graced by the gifts of her love, wisdom, encouragement and support,” longtime Austin dance leader Andrea Ariel wrote Saturday on Facebook. “I send you love and light as you dance with all the great dancing spirits in the beyond. You will always be remembered and forever loved.”
Lalli served on the Austin Arts Commission's panels of expert artists for seven years, earning recognition from the Austin City Council as Volunteer of the Year.
Petite with striking features that stood out in a crowd, Lalli could be seen at all sorts of arts events. For almost 50 years, she was a promoter of Austin and its grassroots culture.
"I spent 10 days here, and I had wonderful experiences,” Lalli told the American-Statesman in 1990 about her arrival in 1971. “I gave a performance at the YWCA and something extraordinary happened. The last dance I did was in the North Indian style. It was a dance about the sky god Indra sending a great rainstorm because he was angry at Krishna, and you demonstrate a lot of rain in the dance — there is a lot of fast footwork to show thunder and lightning, and at the very end of that dance there was a big crack of thunder and a downpour. People in the audience came up and told me that it had ended a long drought. So I was very impressed with Austin, Texas."
Members of the dance community are planning a memorial service to be announced for the spring.