Ontario Presents is currently partnering with CanDance and La danse sur les routes du Québec to offer a professional development program for dance artists from Indigenous and racialized communities. This pilot project offers assistance to artists from Ontario and Quebec who identify with Indigenous or racialized communities. Inspired by the success of Jouer dehors, the project’s aim is to develop dance production skills. Artists are guided by Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo and Lee Bolton.
Over the next few weeks, each of the artists will be sharing about their work here on the blog. This week’s blog features dancer and chroreographer Nova Bhattacharya:
Hello! I’m Nova Bhattacharya. My parents came to Canada from West Bengal, India in the late 60’s and first settled on Mi’kma’Ki in eastern Canada. When I was born, they named me Nova to honour Nova Scotia and their dreams for a new life.
Growing up in an immigrant culture had a huge impact on my outlook on life and my approach to my art. I was constantly witness to people’s curiosity about differences and celebration of commonalities. In dance I’ve always been fascinated by differences, different physiques mastering the same movement, different personalities expressing similar emotions. This led to many collaborations with artists whose training and techniques were vastly different from my bharatnatyam background.
I studied bharatnatyam (an Indian classical dance style from Tamil Nadu) in a basement in Scarborough. Bharatnatyam is a multi-disciplinary art form that includes movement, theatre, music, storytelling and transmission. It creates a circular relationship with the audience, arousing empathy in the viewer and transporting them to a place of wonderment through a shared journey of the imagination. The very first thing a bharatnatyam dancer learns is a namaskaram, a ritual where the dancer connects to mother earth, humbles themselves to the universe, pays respects to elders and welcomes the viewer. This ritual and all its principles of connectivity to each other and the world we live in is at the heart of my work.
My work embraces bharatnatyam and challenges it.
The work celebrates my culture and questions it with a critical eye. From solos, to duets and larger ensemble creations, I always start with movement research and then make choices based on metaphors that I see emerging. I am deeply invested in the individuality of performers. Once the framework of choreography is in place, I give agency to the artists to embody the vocabulary from their own strengths, while encouraging them to take risks and be vulnerable. There are thousands of dancers here who study Indian classical dance styles and I have been working so that these artists are celebrated and embraced as an integral part of our cultural identity in Canada.
I am a bridge builder, someone who believes passionately that we can make the world a better place with art, compassion and community. I am a rebel, refusing to follow, insisting on leading – even if I don’t always know where I’m going! I hope where we are headed as a community of artists and arts enablers on this land is towards a place of openness and understanding. People keep telling me it is the time for difficult conversations and I respond “We are dancers. We can do difficult with grace and agility.”
As an artist I believe that our role is to hold our histories, reflect the present and dream the future. I’m so pleased to be a part of this visionary program that is creating the space for us to come together and get to know each other.
Photo by Dahlia Katz