by Susan McNaughton, Canada

Revealed By Fire first premiered on March 8, 2001 is a compelling multi-media dance performance, reflecting a strong collaborative and creative vision. The dance, divided into seven sections, describes the sorrow, turmoil and eventual transformation Pada underwent after the Air-India crash off the coast of Ireland in 1985 took the lives of her husband and both children. It is a story of identity lost and regained and the infinitely resourceful and enduring capacity of the human spirit to re-fashion itself out of terrifying experience. Her story is told in a series of flashbacks into her own childhood in India, her marriage and immigration to Canada, her dance career and the sudden tragedy which claimed her family. Supported by a strong collaborative team, who set the stage for this drama, we are drawn into the heart of the story without ever losing Pada’s voice as the storyteller. Cylla von Tiedemann provided the richly evocative video images, Judith Rudakoff, the dramaturg, enabled Pada to give narrative voice to her experiences, R.A. Ramamani composed the original score which was woven throughout with Timothy Sullivan’s poignant sounsdcape. With so many strong voices, "the
potential for mayhem was great" as Judith Rudakoff commented in the programme, yet each had a strong commitment to the creative concept which resulted in a highly textured and provocative theatrical production.

Pada begins the piece, alone in a simple white sari, rehearsing in a dance studio in Bombay awaiting the arrival of her family. She is jolted out of her concentration however, at the sound of a phone ringing, a sound that will ultimately change the course of her life. As she is told the terrible news of the crash, Pada tears down the saris streaming down the back screen and the stage, through von Tiedemann’s photos, appears engulfed in a mass of red flames. We are now part of Pada’s multi-layered journey of self discovery. With her six dancers dancing as her children in one scene, childhood friends in another, she gives us a glimpse into a past that is now enclosed in memory, that has moved on to a different and completely unpredictable future. Her symbolic journey ritualises the process of revitalization and calls up the archetypal presence of Sita, a charcater famous in Indian mythology as having to endure agni pareksha or trial by fire in order to prove her virtue. "Through the creation of personal symbols she [ is ] able to overcome the terrors of the past: privation, guilt and loss. Healing of the past is a necessity that occurs within both cultural and personal life. A panorama of compelling video images transforms the stage into a great canvas that moves the audience’s attention to and from the gestural detail of the movement. Culminating in the photographs of Pada with her husband, Vishnu and her two children, washed over the dancers and then dissolved in flames to the heartbreaking sound of Brinda Pada’s last voice message before boarding the Air-India plane.

Lata Pada and her dancers work in movement vocabulary rooted in Bharatanatyam, yet her choreographic style, in its use of stage space and dancer groupings, is distinctly contemporary. Her choreography suits the level of dance mastery of her young company, Sampradaya Dance Creations. Her clear and spare use of movement in her later solo lends a haunting quality to the earlier groupings. Fabric is used deftly throughout. In one instance, she is cocooned in the white fabric of
widowhood, painted with little, red hand prints, divested of everything except the memory of her children’s hands; in another she and her dancers stand poised on one leg, holding a knot of brilliant sari material above their heads like ancient Indian queens.

The litany of remembrances and stories add a rich narrative context to the unfolding themes of the dance. The repetitive refrain of the text is redundant at times yet, there is a compelling rhythm here that conveys the idea of time past and present intersecting in the evocation of these memories. There is more than one identity whose story is told here though: the dancer, the mother, the Indian, the Canadian, the wife and yet we never feel overwhelmed by this multiplicity of voices, a potential danger of the autobiographical nature of the material. Pada leads us through her journey, into the fire, with candour, dignity and artistic skill.