DanceIntense Toronto 2009 at York University 
- Dr. Sunil Kothari    
e-mail: sunilkothari1933@gmail.com   
Photos courtesy: Sampradaya Dance Creations, Canada
 
August 27, 2009 

Hot on the heels of the choreography workshop organized by Padatik Dance Centre, at Kolkata, sponsored by Sangeet Natak Akademi (May 27 - June 4, 2009), followed DanceIntense, Toronto, Canada 2009 organized by Lata Pada’s Sampradaya Dance Creations in partnership with the Sampad organization of South Asian Arts, Birmingham, UK, and the Faculty of Fine Arts and the Dance Department of York University at their sprawling campus in Toronto from 25th July till 9th August 2009.  

Lata Pada founded the dynamic award-winning Sampradaya Dance Creations in 1990; at the forefront of Indian dance in Canada, it is committed to showcasing Bharatanatyam as a world art form as it explores diverse movement styles, contemporary themes and innovative dance creations. Sampradaya Dance Creations’ mandate includes development initiatives, such as DanceIntense that support and build capacity for Indian dance across Canada. These initiatives are designed to nurture professional development, cultural leadership and community engagement for Indian dance artistes in Canada. Lata Pada is the founding member of SADAC - South Asian Dance Alliance of Canada.  
 
Piali Ray, Dr Sunil Kothari and Lata Pada 
Photo: Hari Venkatacharya
As Lata Pada, CM, (Order of Canada, similar to our Padma Award), the first South Asian artiste to receive this award and also an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate Department of Dance, York University, when introducing me to the choreographers and participating dancers, said: ‘We literally hi-jacked Dr Kothari enroute New York, where he will be a Visiting Scholar attached to the Tisch School of the Arts of the New York University. He has just arrived from the JFK Airport to be with us….’ which was true. I am indeed glad that I was ‘hi-jacked’ else I would have missed observing this amazing DanceIntense residency of two-week workshop and performances, interacting with 19 participants from different parts of the world and also leading choreographers from UK, Canada, Malaysia, India, Japan, an Aboriginal dancer, a filmmaker, lighting designer, dramaturg, and a host of young dancers and watching the creative processes of these diverse choreographers. 

It all began in the year 2006 when Piali Ray, OBE, (Order of British Empire- like our Padma award) the dynamic director of Sampad in Birmingham, England organized for emerging professional dancers DanceIntense as a pilot project, a ‘boot camp’ as she says, for Indian dance, often termed as South Asian Dance, as a global phenomenon. The diverse range of artistic practice spanning the classical dance forms from the South Asian region and contemporary expressions emerging from these movement traditions provided a context for such an initiative. The residency offers an amazing opportunity to young dancers between the age group of 18 and 35 years, to learn the creative processes of choreography by taking intense workshops for seven to eight hours daily with necessary intervals. The participants must have advanced training in one of the classical dance forms and a high level of grasping, an ability to adjust to the demands made on them by the choreographers, different movements, different ways of looking at dance, thinking about it, reflecting, freeing themselves from their own notions about dance, developed over years and an open approach to learn from choreographers from different countries and cultures. 

The residency in Birmingham encouraged Piali Ray to find partners in Kolkata where along with Tanushree Shankar, she held a very successful DanceIntense residency in 2008. The concept caught on and Lata Pada, who had participated in both Birmingham and Kolkata, joined hands with Piali Ray and enlisting the support from various funding agencies like the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, The Ontario Trillium Foundation, Metcalf Foundation, York University, RBC Foundation, Arts Council of England, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), and several other private and official agencies, organized this residency that has set such an unprecedented level of excitement and a definite movement, which offers the young generation rare opportunities in their creative endeavours.  

As a dance scholar and a critic, I consider myself fortunate to expose myself to such workshops and interactions. It is by being a part of such initiatives and movements that a critic also learns a lot and it helps one to remove ‘one’s blocks,’ doubts, apprehensions and develop sharp critical faculties. It has helped me appreciate what dancers are attempting to do, to extend their dance horizons and are willing to take ‘artistic risks.’ Such workshops often offer insights to look at dance in a more open and sympathetic way. 
 
Lata Pada, Shobana Jeyasingh, Piali Ray 
Whereas Padatik residency gave us the opportunity to interact with choreographers from India, and Uttara Asha Coorlawala from New York, DanceIntense Toronto offered much more in a global context. Also the participants came from different backgrounds, willing to learn the various dance techniques. While Padatik workshop had essentially dance movements devised by Indian dancers with their base practically in one of the classical dance forms like say Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, the Toronto event included other forms like Mayurbhanj Chhau and contemporary dance vocabulary, devised by Narendra Sharma, and perfected and practiced by Santosh Nair, Butoh by Denise Fujiwara, contemporary narratives of Shobana Jeyasingh, various formalistic structures as demonstrated by choreographer/performer Brian Webb, rudimentary technical exercises of upper body and lower body placement of Flamenco by Carmen Romero, classical Indian dance techniques as source material for contemporary movement as designed by Nova Bhattacharya, Odissi technique of Deba Prasad Das by Ramli Ibrahim, how body moves in Kathak by veteran Kumudini Lakhia, Bharatanatyam by Toronto-based Menaka Thakkar, Indian and Contemporary Fusion by Montreal-based Roger Sinha, body conditioning by Natasha Bakht, and  technique of Aboriginal dance by Santee Smith. 

The two workshops by Allen Kaeja on how camera captures the dance movements on video and film through lens, and most interesting on dance injury and well-being by Ginette Hamel. Since I arrived in the second week, some of the workshops I missed were Butoh, Flamenco, Brian’s integrating one’s own movements in formalistic structures and space, Nova Bhattacharya’s ‘Dancing words and words for dance’ which dealt with writing applications for funding and also to help emerging dancers/choreographers about how to speak effectively about one’s own work. 
 
workshop
workshop 
From 9am till 6.30 pm with breaks, the workshops were continuous and at times looked to me quite punishing. When I asked the participants they said they did not mind as the learning was so fascinating. There were two/ three cases of injuries, but the dancers took  it in their stride. Since I watched the dancers negotiating different and at times difficult movements, this indeed was bothering me. However, when I talked to the participants, they said initially there were pains in different parts of the body, but after three/four days the bodies got used to obeying commands and they could execute movements easily. For example, I saw that in Mayurbhanj Chhau movements, the dancers could take leaps in the air and make a perfect landing. The stance of dharan, holding sword and shield, of swimming, of ‘katichhinna,’ moving from the waist,  ‘ufli’ and ‘topkas,’ the basic movements of Chhau, the chalis, the gaits and the locomotion of movements were grasped with near perfection. As a matter of fact, Santosh Nair choreographed a brief piece of eight minutes as a group dance which looked very interesting. It proved the raison d’etre of these workshops.  

From Chhau to the narratives of Shobana Jeyasingh, it was a completely different approach. Taking words from Gautam Malkani’s novel Londonstani, Shobana gave them a few words like gang, aggression, cool and asked them to improvise, connect, make a sentence, and invent a narrative. There was contact improvisation, rolling on the floor, jumping, and scope for imagination. Duets, group work and a wide range of gestures came out of these exercises. If there was turning around, the choreographer triggered them to think of a million ways of turning around. The concept of negative space, parallel lines, how movements would integrate, how to choreograph from one line stories et al was fascinating. It was an exercise in how one composes and what unusual stimulus leads to it. She gave the simple known mythological story like Churning of the Ocean and why Lord Shiva was called Nilakantha. The dancers in their own ways presented their versions. There could be some known story which they can handle in movement and expressions. 

When the officers from Funding agencies came to watch the classes, on the spot a few exercises were shown. Brian showed how space was used by a single dancer to folk music and song and then without music and with improvisation. Shanthini danced the role of Kurathi, fortune teller (from Kuravanji) in a traditional manner and then improvised without music which made a point that one can make use of traditional material for contemporary use. She forecast future looking at a palm of a participant and created humour. The choreographed Mayurbhanj Chhau piece was most impressive as the participants danced, as they would present a performance.  
  
Menaka Thakkar is a senior Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kuchipudi dancer. As a pioneer in Canada spreading and teaching authentic classical dance forms for past 35 years and more, she has trained two generations of dancers. Her outstanding two disciples who have branched off into contemporary dance are Nova Bhattacharya and Natasha Bakht, who also gave workshops during the DanceIntense sessions. 
 
Natasha Bakht workshop
workshop 
Natasha Bakht while taking morning sessions of body conditioning daily, gave various valuable guidelines for avoiding waste of energy, breathing, positioning of the feet, developing stomach muscles, also movements of full leg, high kick and in general warming up in a manner that the body is fine tuned for any movement a dancer wishes to employ. Simple exercises and awareness of various parts of the body, anatomy would go a long way for any dance style and form. These sessions were very crucial. 

Menaka introduced participants to basics of Bharatanatyam and Odissi and gave them a feeling of how the body moves in these two forms. Some of the participants were well versed in Bharatanatyam and Odissi. Therefore she dealt with advanced technique. She gave them exercises to choreograph, giving them a bunch of sollukattus (mnemonic syllables), to suggest breaking up of the atoms. She also touched upon the abhinaya aspect and expressions, nayika bhedas and how hastas have to be utilized when telling a story. 

Kumudini Lakhia engaged dancers in training them with the basic of Kathak in a scientific manner, making them aware of what parts of the body move, how breathing helps, where eyes have to be focused and how turns are to be taken, or footwork is to be executed. The feel of Kathak was conveyed in an admirable manner and after six sessions, she helped the dancers to choreograph a small piece. She made participation entertaining with a sense of humour, making dancers aware where body looks awkward. She is a senior seasoned teacher, dancer, choreographer with vast experience and it was indeed a bonus to have her. I have watched her teaching at her institution Kadamb in Ahmedabad and have been associated with her for the past 50 years. I enjoy her teaching methodologies and an ability to inspire disciples and participants to explore movements to create their own choreographic pieces. She asked the participants to create a choreographic piece using all the movements she taught and with recorded music and padhant, recitation, footwork and gat - the piece was choreographed under her supervision. 

Allen Kaeja is an-award winning choreographer and dance film director. He entered the filed of dance after nine years of wrestling and Judo. He has created over 90 dance pieces and since 1982 has choreographed for 22 films. He spoke of and taught about current of momentum partnering. Skillful partnering techniques were demonstrated through contact improvisation, basics of weight exchange, equalized energy and finding the floor exercises were not only fun to watch but it conveyed so much playfulness and understanding of partnering. He said during his entire career he has never let his partner ever fall. The workshop was very successful from the point of access to the ease of moving in and out of contact. Allen has worked with blind persons training them movements and has developed skills of focusing and by offering a sense of confidence and  assurance to the blind persons how to move and lift them, move with them. Such insights were very rewarding.  

The session on dance film was fascinating. Screening excerpts from his films which have won international prizes, he showed how staged dance could be filmed and how dance can be seen through the lens and choreographed.  His film ‘Asylum of Spoons’ has won a prize, and it was fascinating to watch how it was filmed from the stage version to one which was specially choreographed for film. He said: “Sacrifice your vision to find core vision. Film is an uncompromisingly difficult medium and to capture the movements on camera is a challenging job.” He said Fred Astaire used to say: “Keep the camera on me, the rest I shall do!” and Fred succeeded in capturing dance on film. He also showed how site specific dance was filmed. It was a fascinating session offering the participant insights into the dance movements and its filming. 

The final day was devoted to rehearsing some of the pieces which were to be presented as sharing the choreography and it was exciting to see all participants geared to put their best foot forward. 

The previous night, after dinner, the participants interviewed me and wanted to learn about the contemporary dance movement in India and also what my take was on the contemporary dance abroad. They asked me how do they get more books and also about the literature on Indian Diaspora, their movements, their aspirations and where dance in their context was going. Also what could they as young dancers/choreographers do and aspire for. I said frankly that now the writings on Indian Diaspora dancers should come from among them. They should read literature. The information gathered from search-engines is not enough. They must read creative literature, poetry and be more ‘literate.’ The interest in Indian classical dance forms and the available literature on it written by Indian dance scholars is available but is of uneven quality and can give some sense of history about what happened after India achieved Independence. 

It was good to talk with them to learn about their aspirations and reactions. All agreed that such opportunities rarely come their way. They learnt a lot from different choreographers by interacting with them. That Kathak of Kumudini Lakhia is different from what some of them learnt at Leicester in UK. Odissi of Ramli Ibrahim from Malaysia is different from what they saw in India, that they did not know how Roger Sinha fused modern dance movements with Bharatanatyam movement, or for that matter how Natasha Bakht evolved movements which they could follow and Mayurbhanj Chhau dance can offer so many possibilities and the martial art of Kerala, viz., Kalaripayattu can make their bodies so flexible. The music could be eclectic and lighting for contemporary work needs special training and understanding. Filming dance is not filming staged dance. Abhinaya with its intricacies has to be understood. They would use in their creations some of these concepts. When asked what they would do in future, some said they would like to choreograph, but did not know if they would make it big. However, all agreed that what they were exposed to during two weeks would live with them for a long time. 

On the last day during the session of ‘sharing choreographies,’ similar to ‘show case’ not with costumes and lighting, but rehearsed select pieces, solos, duets, group introduced by Natasha Bakht were presented in Mclean Theatre. The choreographic pieces of Kumudini Lakhia, Ramli Ibrahim, Santosh Nair, Natasha Bakht, Nova Bhattacharya, Shobana Jeyasingh, and others were performed with considerable uniformity. I was quite surprised to see them remembering these choreographic exercises. One would not have believed that the diversity they showed was a result of mere two weeks work. One felt that if they were given two/three days more to rehearse, they would have put up a professional presentation. Some works were directly under the supervision of the choreographers and some the participants had worked out amongst themselves and also their own solos. Santosh Nair’s piece using Mayurbhanj Chhau technique stood out for its dynamism. Kumudini Lakhia’s Kathak work was also noteworthy. Natasha Bakht’s excerpt was well executed. Mangalacharan as taught by Ramli in Odissi had powerful music and an overall uniform technique. The audience appreciation gave dancers excellent moral support. 

If DanceIntense has to result into a movement across various countries, they would need partners and a significant amount of funding. The selected dancers should also have advanced training. And determination to undergo very tough training for two weeks for eight to nine hours. 

Piali Ray’s spirit is contagious and her ability to enlist support internationally deserves praise. Similarly, Lata Pada’s reputation and credibility to have York University’s participation and get support financially from different funding agencies indeed made this venture possible as participants came from different countries. 

It indeed is obvious that what the organizers and participating choreographers did was like ‘sowing the seeds.’ It has to be seen how these seeds will sprout and enrich the dance scene in future. The very effort and practice have shown that the young generation is ready to take off and face several challenges with changing times. To evolve a new language of dance. The booklet containing brief biographical histories of the choreographers, both the Directors’ statements, and details about DanceIntense gives one an idea of how much work has gone behind this project and an army of people involved. The entire workshop with interviews of the choreographers, participating dancers and others has been videotaped. It will be edited suitably and made available to dancers and scholars. 
 

DanceIntense Artists Showcase 
- Dr. Sunil Kothari  
 

Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to www.narthaki.com, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award.