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Dr. Mamata Niyogi-Nakra:
Recipient of the Medal of Honor by the National Assembly of Quebec

December 21, 2016

On November 27, 2016 Kala Bharati organized a meaningful event where many artists and promoters of the arts in the city gathered for brainstorming and contributing to an initiative Kala Bharati is undertaking called Building Bridges. It is a proposition made by Carole Poirier, MNA, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in Montreal, under which various possibilities of twinning Kolkata and Montreal through sharing cultural exchanges are being explored.

Carole Poirier is the elected member of the official opposition in the Quebec National Assembly, from the very district in which Dr. Mamata Niyogi-Nakra and Dr. Harbans Nakra reside and Kala Bharati, the Bharatanatya center she founded is based.

The evening also gave an opportunity to celebrate a momentous occasion in Dr. Mamata's presence on Quebec's cultural scene. This was a perfect moment to recognize her receiving the Medal of Honor in March this year, awarded by the National Assembly of Quebec for "perseverance in sharing our cultures." The Medal of Honor was presented to Dr. Mamata Niyogi-Nakra by Carole Poirier at an event organized by India International Centre and The Kri Foundation in Delhi in March this year at which she gave a talk on 'Sharing our Cultures to Build Bridges' and was chaired by Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan.

From left to right: Gopika Nath, Arshiya Sethi, Carole Porier, Nalini Asthana, Dr. Mamata Niyogi-Nakra, and Dr. Harbans Nakra at IIC, March 1, 2016

Kala Bharati first opened its doors as a Bharatanatya dance school in 1981. Founded by Mamata with help and encouragement by her Gurus U.S. Krishna Rao and U.K. Chandrabhaga Devi of Bangalore, the excellent training program developed at the institution successfully led to the formation of La troupe Kala Bharati in 1986, comprised of senior dancers that performed regularly in the city as well as different cities in Canada and abroad, including India.

Many of the students of Kala Bharati participated in the project Fenêtre sur le Monde / A window to the world, which allowed the students to go into different schools and community centers with presentations using various aspects of Bharatanatya dance form to reach out to different types of audiences. They interacted with students and adults or senior citizens allowing them to try the different movements and would perform an item or two as well. In Montreal, La troupe Kala Bharati participated in Journées de la Culture, Maisons de la Culture of different regions in the city. The auditorium would be packed for each and every performance.

The choreographies that Mamata has produced stand out above the rest in a crowd. The child friendly repertoire in Bharatanatya, Shishu Sadhana, with the well known musician O.S. Arun composing and directing the music in the DVD, has won much acclaim as path breaking in a methodology for training children in a classical Indian dance style.

Mamata went to The Hague, Netherlands, for an International Conference on Dance and the Child where she presented a paper on the process and philosophy behind creating Shishu Sadhana and participated in a lecture demonstration which was very well received by several delegates, many of whom were dance educators and teachers and academics from University Dance Departments. Her approach to making each item child friendly is unique, and absolutely timely, as in this day and age we are losing the essence of child's play as our kids get lost in technology. What better way to invoke the imagination of the child doing a tillana set to animal movements in Bharatanatya.

Seasonscape is another of Mamata's famous productions she has choreographed on a set of haiku written by her. The dance was part of an Ascendanse series in which five other local choreographers were invited by Tangente, a Montreal based well known dance venue, to present their creations. Madurai T.N. Seshagopalan was invited to Montreal by Kala Bharati to work in close collaboration with Mamata and the dancers for a period of ten days to produce a music composition based on haiku written by her depicting her childhood memories of seasonal scenes growing up in India.

Seasonscape has been a huge success whenever and wherever it has been performed and was part of the hour long recording done at the Prasar Bharati studios of CPC of the National TV network of India, Doordarshan. Seasonscape has been telecast first as part of a special weeklong music and dance presentation in connection with the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Indian Independence on the 13th August 1998 and again chosen to be re-telecast on 15th August immediately after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Independence Day address to the nation. A rare honor indeed.

"The Quebec National Assembly Medal of Honor means a lot to me," said Mamata explaining why she feels strongly about participating in Montreal's 375th anniversary celebrations next year. "It is wonderful when your work is appreciated by your compatriots. It is here in this alien soil that Kala Bharati is rooted and I am indeed glad to note it is bearing some shoots as well." She went on to compare how the Maha Maya Award she received in 1992 had impacted on her. It was the year her gurus, the Rao couple had celebrated the Golden Jubilee of their service to dance by giving the Maha Maya Award named after their institution to sixteen dance gurus from different genres. "When I realized how much faith Guruji and Amma demonstrated in my ability to transmit the art to others it strengthened my resolve to carry on their legacy in a faraway land," says Mamata.

All of the work Mamata does in the field of dance has throughout been on an entirely voluntary basis as a service to the art of dance. Her profession, with a Ph.D. in Linguistics, was to teach English at Maisonneuve College and at McGill University Continuing Education in Montreal.

It is not every day we meet extraordinary people. It is not every day we get to work with those who have the vision and aesthetics to create masterpieces and execute them. Dr. Mamata Niyogi-Nakra is one of those extraordinary persons. We seek out other individuals to help shape our thoughts and actions to be better. What a wonderful mentor Mamata has been to help in daily conduct with students, colleagues and even family members.

Congratulations to Dr. Mamata Niyogi-Nakra as the recipient of the Medal of Honor and that she continues to be a role model in the propagation of the arts and culture in this city.


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