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March/April 2016

Dance Central A Dance Centre Publication

Content In A Certain Space A conversation with Sujit Vaidya Page 2

Dancing Our Identity An essay by Mique'l Dangeli Page 7

We Need Wood! A conversation with Sas Selfjord Page 14


Welcome to Dance Central

In a Certain Thinking Bodies:

In this issue, the Thinking Bodies series continues with a conversation with bharatanatyam dancer Sujit Vaidya and his perception of the development, current challenges and future of bharatanatyam dance in Vancouver and beyond. We are also very pleased to present the first essay by First Nations dancer, dance scholar, and Dance Centre artist in residence Dr. Mique'l Dangeli, which outlines four of the fundamental aspects required in developing a more complex understanding of Northwest Coast First Nations Dance. The Other Movements series continues with a conversation with the artistic director of the Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival, Sas Selfjord, who talks about the challenges and successes in developing tap as part of the ecology of professional dance in Vancouver. As always, we thank all the artists who have agreed to contribute and we welcome new writing and project ideas at any time, in order to continue to make Dance Central a more vital link to the community. Please send material by email to members@thedancecentre.ca or call us at 604.606.6416. We look forward to the conversation!

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Da nce Central March/April 2016

Photo by Chris Randle


Space A conversation with Sujit Vaidya

AK: Do you consider yourself primarily an interpreter, a choreographer, or a performer? SV: I think of myself mainly as an interpreter, with the freedom to express how I see a particular movement or line of poetry, and to work closely with the choreographer. If something isn't quite up to the choreographer's vision, I can have a conversation about it. What excites me nowadays is the back–and–forth between the choreographer's vision, seeing how that looks on my body, trying to find my own sense within that space, and the two of us having a conversation about each other's process. AK: Is your practice exclusively focused on bharatanatyam, or do you work in other forms as well? SV: Ninety seven percent of my dancing has been bharatanatyam; that is my essential genre. I have dabbled in other forms; for example I worked on a piece with Alvin Tolentino in 2011 as part of The Dance Centre’s presentation 10x10x10, and with Dakshina Dance in Washington, D.C., whose artistic director is both a bharatanatyam and a modern dancer, so I have been exposed to movement outside my genre, but my work is focused on that format. AK: From the outside, bharatanatyam appears very set, very formal, in large measure because of the close relationship between the dance and the music. Having studied the rudiments of Karnatic music, I am especially struck by the tight integration between the rhythm and the footwork. How do you find freedom to interpret within that framework? SV: That is a very important question, and something I feel is the most common misconception about the professional world of Indian classical dancing. You are correct in that the

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Thinking Bodies:

A conversation with Sujit Vaidya

AK: It is interesting to hear you talk about an idea of embodying maleness in the range of a female character. How does that translate to different audiences, with their different ideas of archetype and stereotype? Do 'Indian' audiences interpret your

choreography is completely integrated with the musical-

performance differently compared to a Western contemporary

ity, and the dance corresponds to the rhythmic structure

dance audience?

of the composition. During the initial stages of learning the dance, and grounding it in the music, the movement is highly

SV: Absolutely. I perform a lot in Chennai, and the audiences

structured, and you have to develop a good sense of the

and their responses there are always different from contem-

structure with all of its cross-rhythms. The first seven years

porary dance audiences. What I try to do in my performance is

that one spends in the world of bharatanatyam are about

to communicate my conviction of what I am presenting. These

developing an understanding how complex that structure

are living characters and they keep developing, and I learn from

is. Once you find your grounding, however, there is so much

them. The composition will remain essentially the same, but I

potential to create within it. Even in terms of composition,

will try to push it a lot further in a space where I know the audi-

nothing is static. When one chooses a composition, one

ence is not biased toward a certain interpretation, and open to

has to find a way to connect to it, and to understand how

that experience. In Chennai, a city where you find bharatanaty-

it reads to you. They are not written in a set way, although

am and Karnatic music in every household, the audience is very

some are based in mythology and because those stories are

informed, which is wonderful, but unfortunately it is also very

so familiar to the audience, there are limitations in what you

biased, with certain ways of looking at dance, and in that sense

can do with them, but even there you can experiment with

one has to be careful. My teachers have been very encouraging,

new ways of embodying the characters. You need to have

and when we set a piece, we often already know that it may not

the skillset to translate your ideas, but as you progress and

be received well by a certain segment of the audience, but if

delve deeper, you begin to work on what are called Shrin-

we keep to the integrity of the composition, and if what we are

gara or love compositions. Usually the protagonist in these

saying within the context of that composition makes sense, then

is a heroine, but there is no set structure for that character;

that is the direction we move forward in. It absolutely has to

I can choose to make her what I want her to be, and the

come from a place of deep conviction, because if you are con-

dialogue can be changed, so even in a common composi-

stantly wondering how someone is going to react to your work,

tion you will see no similarity between the interpretation

that will become your focus and it will show in the process as

of two different performers. The other thing I find exciting

well as performance. So if we have come across a very potent

to explore, as a male dancer, is that in the traditional world

idea about, say, the sexuality of a character in a certain space,

of bharatanatyam, for whatever reason, it is frowned upon

we may reserve it; we will develop it, but we may choose to

for some of these compositions to be performed by a male

wait before we present it to an audience in Chennai until the

dancer, but I have found a connection with the complexity

essence of that idea is fully developed; then, if an audience ob-

and the essence of these characters, and that's what I have

jects, that will be fine, and as long as we come from a place of

been drawn to. I have been fortunate enough to find teach-

conviction, the audience usually comes along. Some of the tra-

ers and mentors who have been able to nurture that aspect

ditional compositions my teacher and I are drawn to have a lot

in me, so my task in this performance space is to find myself

of erotic sensibilities and the language they were written in can

in the story of a woman: 'How 'male' am I supposed to be in

be a little crude, but the composers weren’t shy in saying what

this character? What am I letting go of? What is 'maleness'?'

they wanted to express. At that time, the court of kings included

There are so many different questions. and all of these things

courtesans, and the composers were influenced by the physical

add to the process and to the work. From the outside it might

beauty that was surrounding them, so nothing is hidden in that

look like there is no freedom to create and explore within this

context, there is no crudity and vulgarity in it. If you take it out

structure, but when you are familiar and grounded in it, my

of context, and out of the composition, and if I just give you a

experience is that it allows immense freedom to create and

line without understanding where the characters come from, it

express yourself. Also, live music, an integral part of perfor-

might sound absolutely vulgar and crass. But if you create that

mance, lends itself to spontaneity and creative freedom.

fantasy realm for the audience, of courts and kings and cour-

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"From the outside it might look like there is no freedom to create and explore within this structure, but when you are familiar and grounded in it, my experience is that it allows immense freedom to create and express yourself."

tesans, then you have created a context for what is being expressed. And then again, who is to say with authority what is “vulgar” or “crude”. It is a matter of personal opinion and so I pretty much trust my sensibilities in deciding how much I am okay with pushing the content. AK: Some South Asian countries with a strong established classical tradition have also developed their own contemporary practice—Indonesia for example—with its own audience. Not everyone embraces it, but there is a genuine dialogue. Some artists like Alvin Tolentino who is very interested in the question of how 'Asian' dance artists are perceived, argue that a dialogue and a transformation are necessary. Are Indian bharatanatym audiences broadening their horizons? SV: Two things that come to mind: Around classical dance, there is always a conversation about the traditional against the contemporary forms, and I fail to understand what that conversation really means; of course I understand that contemporary forms are a part of the practice, but when the term traditional is used in a certain context in forms like professional level bharatanatyam, I feel like it only serves to exclude certain audiences. That idea of the 'traditional' form is so specific that it isn't accessible to a larger audience, and that is a conversation we really need to have to change the perception. Bharatanatyam in its essence is art, first of all, and sometimes that is lost. I also question why we have so many students of the classical form in this city, but only a handful in our audiences. What is it that compels someone to learn the form, but not explore all of its facets? The Vancouver community doesn't have the resources to present many artists, so why aren't students starving to see any professional performance in their discipline? When I started to learn, I would go to see anything; and if it was only a ten minute presentation at the Vancouver Public Library, I would go, wanting to learn, no matter from whom, and I needed to see everything the scene had to offer. Coming back to the 'contemporary versus classical' question, I find that in India there is a movement toward contemporizing all the classical art forms, and also a movement in contemporary dance itself. The standards are not yet up to par with what we see here, but more and more people are interested in pushing, blending, and conversing; some very successfully, some still trying to find their way, but the conversation is beginning to happen. For myself, when I am collaborating

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Dance Central The Dance Centre Scotiabank Dance Centre Level 6, 677 Davie Street Vancouver BC V6B 2G6 T 604.606.6400 F 604.606.6401 info@thedancecentre.ca www.thedancecentre.ca Dance Central is published every two months by The Dance Centre for its members and for the dance community. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent Dance Central or The Dance Centre. The editor reserves the right to edit for clarity or length, or to meet house requirements. Editor Andreas Kahre Copy Editor Hilary Maxwell Contributors to this issue: Dr. Mique'l Dangeli, Sujit Vaidya, Sas Selfjord Photography: Chris Randle (cover and inside), David Cooper, Sas Selfjord, Mique'l Dangeli. Dance Centre Board Members Chair Beau Howes, CFA Vice Chair Josh Martin Secretary Margaret Grenier Treasurer Matthew Breech Past Chair Ingrid M. Tsui Directors Carolyn Chan Angeline Chandra Eve Chang Susan Elliott Kate Franklin Anndraya T. Luui Starr Muranko Dance Foundation Board Members Chair Linda Blankstein Secretary Anndraya T. Luui Treasurer Jennifer Chung Directors Trent Berry, Kimberley Blackwell, Janice Wells, Andrea R. Wink Dance Centre Staff: Executive Director Mirna Zagar Programming Coordinator Raquel Alvaro Marketing Manager Heather Bray Venue and Services Administrator Robin Naiman Development Director Sheri Urquhart Technical Directors Justin Aucoin and Mark Eugster Accountant Elyn Dobbs Member Services Coordinator Hilary Maxwell

The Dance Centre is BC's primary resource centre for the dance profession and the public. The activities of The Dance Centre are made possible bynumerous individuals. Many thanks to our members, volunteers, community peers, board of directors and the public for your ongoing commitment to dance in BC. Your suggestions and feedback are always welcome. The operations of The Dance Centre are supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Province of British Columbia, the BC Arts Council, and the City of Vancouver through the Office of Cultural Affairs.

Thinking Bodies:

A conversation with Sujit Vaidya with an artist from a different genre, I need to have a dialogue between what they are creating and what I can bring from my world, and that should be an organic process, not a forced dialogue, especially when it crosses cultural boundaries. For example, I witnessed a dialogue between Kathak and flamenco dancers, Akram Khan and Israel Galvan, and the dialogue was so potent that we were all in there with them. I am completely open to that process and I am happy to see collaboration between artists that blends more than just the form, something that really speaks. As far as the notion that transformation is necessary, I question the word transformation. I don’t find that necessary at all. I find timelessness in the dance form. But a natural evolution is inevitable. Bharatanatyam, the way it is danced now, does not look remotely like how the dance form looked a couple decades back, because the world does not look the same. Therefore our influences, sensibilities and experiences are not the same. The grammar might stay the same, but the language of expression is current. AK: The argument that traditional forms are in danger of losing their essence if they open up to dialogue and collaboration is still made, in the attempt to maintain—or perhaps rather create—a notion of 'purity'. On the other hand, whether in ballet, flamenco or First Nations dance, many 'traditional' artists are perfectly willing to explore new territory. In the Karnatic musical tradition, (Toronto-based master drummer and musician) Trichy Shankaran comes to mind, who has been collaborating with many non-Indian musicians as an improviser. That brings me to the question about improvisation in bharatanatyam. There is a high degree of improvisational freedom in Karnatic music but for audiences who are not familiar with the language, it may be difficult to tell when the performers are playing a structured part of a composition and when they are improvising within that structure. The same is true for the dance, I imagine. SV: Very true, and that's the reason it is so enjoyable to play with live musicians. When you are all on the same page, there is such a freedom, and as the composition develops, and as you are trying to find a certain space within yourself and the character you are embodying, you have an immense amount of freedom to express. It depends on

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Dancing Our Identity: Four Fundamental Aspects Necessary in Generating a More Complex Understanding of Northwest Coast First Nations Dance. by Dr. Mique'l Dangeli Sm Loodm ‘Nüüsm ada Táakw Shaawát di waayu. Rachael Askren ada Mootgm’goot di nooyu. Corrine Reeve na di nits’iit's’u. Cora Booth na di agwi nits’iit’dszu. Laxsgyiik di pteegu. Gispaxlo’ots di wil ’nat’alu. Wil Uks T’aa Mediik di wil ‘waatgu. Laxyuubs Coast Salish di wil dzogu. N’toyaxsut ‘nuusm Musqueam, Squamish, ada Tseil-Waututh wilaask.

As this is my first contribution to Dance Central (of what will be many over the next two years), I began this article by following the protocol of my people to introduce myself by honouring the matrilineal line that defines my identity as a Tsimshian First Nations woman of the Gispaxlo’ots Eagle Clan of Metlakatla, Alaska. In my language— Sm’algya̱x—I shared with you my Tsimshian and Tlingit names as well as the names of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I also acknowledged and thanked the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tseil-Waututh people for allowing me to be a guest in their traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories—now known as Vancouver. It is from this position, as a respectful Indigenous guest in unceded Coast Salish territories, that I write for this journal.

It is my intention that each of my Dance Central articles contributes to the primary goal of my two-year artist residency with The Dance Centre at Scotiabank Dance Centre. Through my residency, I hope to build a greater awareness and understanding of the complexity and diversity of Northwest Coast First Nations dance practices among the wider dance community and the general public. For the past thirteen years, I have carried out this work in partnership with my husband Nisga’a artist and carver Mike Dangeli in our leadership of the Git Hayetsk Dancers in our performances and speaking engagements throughout North American and abroad. Most recently we lectured and performed at the University of Toronto and Queens University. At the local level, I have worked towards this goal by engaging in conversations on this topic as a speaker on a dance panel at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in January organized by Peter Dickinson, initiating and speaking on a panel at the Talking Stick Festival in February with the Vancouver Art Gallery and The Grunt Gallery on institutional responsibility when showing performance works that include Indigenous

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Dancing Our Identity: Four Fundamental Aspects Necessary in Generating a More Complex Understanding of Northwest Coast First Nations Dance.

Figure 1: Spakwus Slulem Dancers, Photo: M. Dangeli

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D a n c e C e n t ra l J a nu r ay / Fe b r u a r y 2 0 1 6

content, and as a guest artist at last month’s Talking Thinking Dancing Body facilitated by Justine A. Chambers. I am currently teaching a 400-level course that I designed for the First Nations and Indigenous Studies program at the University of British Columbia (UBC) called Protocol, Politics, and Place in Indigenous Performing Arts. My passion for educating the public, as well as dance artists of all genres, about Northwest First Nations dance is inspired by many sources. Foremost, it is generated by the love that I have for our First Nations communities and artists. Secondly, it comes as a result of the discrimination that I, and other Indigenous dance artists from this area, have undergone due to the lack of understanding about our practices. While conducting my doctoral research on Northwest Coast First Nations dance practices and collaborative processes at UBC from 2010-2015 (see the January/February 2016 issue of Dance Central for more information), it was strikingly common for the Indigenous dance artists that I interviewed to share with me how they are constantly confronted by preconceived notions suggesting that their dance practices are thought to be a tradition in the most oversimplified sense. Most often these dismissive comments happen in conversations with members of audiences, dance artists of all genres (even other Indigenous dance artists who are not from the Northwest Coast), and with arts administrators. Their preconceived notions suggest that Northwest Coast First Nations dance performances are merely unchanged routines of ancient songs and dances, unconsciously performed, and unengaged with the present. The dominance of


t

Figure 2: Children of Takaya. Photo: Mique'l Dangeli

"Along the coast, hundreds of new songs and dances are being brought to life by First Nations people in ceremony at potlatches and during public events every year. " Da nce Central March/April 2016

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these misnomers and stereotypes in both popular and academic discourse discredit the work of Northwest Coast First Nation dance artists who are actively producing performances of both ancestral songs and newly created works in ways that are critically engaged with the present, as well as with pressing political issues. In this article, I will begin to lay some basic groundwork for a more in-depth discussion of the diversity and complexity of Northwest Coast First Nations dance in my later articles. I have also highlighted keywords in order to build an essential vocabulary. In order to provide a framework for this readership to engage with the work of individual Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists, their dance groups, and their practices of training, song-composition, choreography, and collaboration. I will start with four fundamental aspects necessary in generating a more complex understanding Indigenous dance in this region.

1. The Northwest Coast is one of the most diverse regions of Indigenous people in North America. I wish it would go without saying that we’re not all alike (and that goes for more than just our appearances), but more often than not we have to say it! The cultural and linguistic diversity in this region is extreme. It is one of the most diverse regions of Indigenous people in what colonialism has deemed North America. Northwest Coast First Nations refers specifically to the Indigenous peoples whose territories are now known as Western Washington, 10

Dance Central March/April 2016

the Coast of British Columbia, and the Southeast Alaskan Panhandle. There are 70 First Nations (Aboriginal peoples who are ethnically neither Métis nor Inuit) and approximately 59 Indigenous languages on the Northwest Coast. This does not include the huge number of Bands, underneath the wider category “First Nations” as well as the vast number of dialects of each Indigenous language. The diversity in cultural practices, as well as shared or similar beliefs and practices, is not only at the heart of—but also accounts for—the strength of the work of Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists and their dance groups.

2. “Dance Groups,” not dance troupes or companies, are central to the expression of identity and Indigenous rights on the Northwest Coast. The term 'dance group' not 'dance troupe' or 'company', is used in the everyday vernacular of Northwest Coast First Nations people to refer to collectives of singers, drummers, and dancers who perform songs and dances owned by their Nations, families, and communities. Currently, there are upward of 300 dance groups in both rural and urban communities along the Northwest


Coast, with new ones forming every year. Around 40 dance groups are based here in the Lower Mainland. Membership of each dance group is self-determined and delineated in a variety of ways. Some dance groups limit their membership to a people who are of one First Nation, family, or community, and others are composed of one or more each of these categories. Squamish dance group, Spakwus Slulem, based in North Vancouver and lead by composer and choreographer S7aplek (Bob Baker) is an example of a dance group whose members are all of one Nation and from different, but related, families (Figure 1). My dance group, Git Hayetsk, is made up 8 different Nations. Our dancers are from the Tsimshian, Nisga’a, Gitxsan, Tlingit, Haida, Haisla, Tahltan, and Musqueam Nations (see last issue of Dance Central for photos of the Git Hayetsk). Mike and I started our dance group by focusing the Tsimshian, Nisga’a, and Gitxsan peoples, as each of these Nations speak dialects of our language—Sm’algyax. We soon realized that it was difficult to maintain such boundaries as Sm’algyax speaking peoples, just as all First Nations up and down the coast, marry into many other Nations. To keep families in our dance group whole, we have to continue to open up our membership to spouses and relatives. Dance groups are intergenerational. The ages of their membership range from newborns to elders. This intergenerationality is central to Indigenous pedagogical practices (ways of teaching) that allow for embodied knowledge to be transferred and maintained by people of all generations. Ownership of songs and dances performed by dance groups are passed down hereditarily and/or given, what we refer to as ‘gifted’, between individuals, communities, and Nations. Rights to songs and dances, and the ways in which they are performed, are governed by what First

Nations people refer to as protocol —bodies of laws that form Indigenous legal systems. These rights are expressed in terms of ownership and permission through oratory delivered by dance group leaders at the time of their dance group’s performance. Dance group leaders, or leaders for short, have responsibilities similar to that of artistic directors in most dance companies. They manage the dance group membership, practices (what is known in other dance genre’s as rehearsal), and performances, and oversee their adherence to protocol. The relationship between protocol and Northwest Coast First Nations dance practices is immensely complex. One of the main focuses of my dissertation research was the ways in which protocol is asserted, negotiated, and enacted by Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists in their processes of creation, collaboration, and performance. I won’t spend too much time on it here, as I will focus on it in greater detail in later articles. The main point I wish to make at this time is that for Northwest Coast First Nations people, songs and dances are not only an integral expression of our identities, an embodied archive of our languages, histories, relationships to and ownership of land and waterways, but it is also our legal system. A common analogy made about the ways that protocol governs the ownership of songs and dances is to compare it to the copyright system in western law. I feel, however, that the analogy of Identity Theft is more accurate, as the act of singing a song or performing a dance that does not belong to you, is a claim—through Indigenous legal means—to another’s identity and the territorial rights owned by that hereditary line. This is one of the many reasons why appropriation hurts our communities so deeply. Dance Central March/April 2016

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Dancing Our Identity: Four Fundamental Aspects Necessary in Generating a More Complex Understanding of Northwest Coast First Nations Dance.

3. Northwest Coast First Nations songs, dances, and ceremonies were outlawed in Canada from 18841951. For 67 years, it was illegal to be who we truly are. Northwest Coast First Nations dance practices cannot be separated from their criminalization in Canada through what is referred as the Potlatch Ban. In 1884 the Canadian Government revised the Indian Act in order to ban potlatches as well as other First Nations ceremonies throughout the country. This included the performance of all associated songs and dances. Among Northwest Coast First Nations people, potlatches are ceremonial events where hereditary privileges, their associated histories, and kinship are asserted through oratory, songs, dances, and in some cases totem pole raisings, and validated through feasting and the distribution of gifts to the witnesses. Missionaries, government agents, and other colonial figures 12

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viewed potlatching as a hindrance to assimilating First Nations people into Euro-Canadian society. Despite these efforts by the government, missionaries, and the Indian Residential School system to enact cultural genocide, many First Nations communities continued to potlatch in secret throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As early as the 1940s, the formation of, and performances by, dance groups in British Columbia critically engaged with the Indian Act’s laws prohibiting and restricting the use of songs and dances. One of the most prominent examples is the dance group started in the 1940s by political activist and actor Chief Dan George (1899-1981) of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. Chief Leonard George, Dan George’s son, grew up as a dancer and singer in his family’s dance group. He remembers that in order “to make our performances legal,” since the potlatch ban was still in effect, “we performed bluegrass music as well as Tsleil-Waututh songs and dances.” Known today as the Children of Takaya, Chief Dan George’s dance group still performs. Their membership is primarily composed of Chief Dan George’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They are led by Chief Leonard George’s son, Gabriel George. The formation of dance groups was more common and widespread among Northwest Coast First Nations people since the 1960s. The increase in dance groups in Canada may be connected to the lifting of the potlatch ban in 1951. While the United States government did not institute laws criminalizing Indigenous songs, dances, and ceremonies on the Northwest Coast, government agents, missionaries,


teachers, and others placed intense pressure on Indigenous people in Alaska and Washington, as elsewhere, to refrain from participating in their cultural practices and assimilate into Euro-American culture. Much like the Indian Residential School system here in Canada, Indian boarding schools in the United States, as well as many other mechanisms of cultural oppression, brutally reinforced these efforts. The widespread formation of dance groups in both rural and urban areas along the Northwest Coast since the 1960s has been a powerful social and political movement of cultural resurgence for Indigenous people in this region. Taking all of what I have discussed in points 2 & 3 of this article into account, I feel that I must share a conversation I recently had with an official of a prominent chain of recreation centres in Canada. This person asked to meet with me out of their program's concern that First Nations people were not responding to their invitation to teach Northwest Coast First Nations dance to people of all backgrounds at their facilities. This person was quite frustrated about it as it was a part of their program’s “Reconciliation” effort. This is a question that I get quite often: “Why don’t your people share your practices by teaching others to do them?” A simple answer, without repeating the information covered in previous sections, is: Because it is who we are. We have inherited the right to perform these songs and dances from our ancestors. It’s only been legal for us to do so for the past 65 years. Rather than asking us to teach non-First Nations people, as a part of so-called “Reconciliation,” provide us with the support (space and funding) to strengthen our own practices and recovery from what we have lost during our cultural genocide.

4. They might look like old songs and dance to you, but they are new to us. I’m going to keep this point simple, as I have discussed a lot of complex issues in this short article. Northwest Coast First Nations dance artists are composing new songs and choreographing new dances nearly every day. Along the coast, hundreds of new songs and dances are being brought to life (performed for the first time) by First Nations people in ceremony at potlatches and during public events every year. Because we are in our regalia (ceremonial clothing) and singing in our language doesn’t mean that what we are performing is ancient. We are continuing the ways of our ancestors by writing our lived history into songs and dances for future generations to embody. N’toyaxsm da amuksism ~ Thank you for listening Helpful links: For a map of the Northwest Coast see: https://www.bced. gov.bc.ca/abed/images/map2.jpg For more about the Squamish dance group Spakwus Slulem see: http://www.eaglesongdancers.org For more about the Tseil-Waututh dance group Children of Tayaka see: https://www.facebook.com/groups/127140244555/

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Sas (Sandra) Selfjord is the Executive Director of the Vancouver Tap Dance Society. She began the first phase of her career in the investment industry as head stock trader for several leading brokerage firms. She also developed and delivered the successful “Women and Investing” courses designed to empower women with financial and stock market knowledge. Sas then became engaged in board development, volunteer support, program delivery, and risk management and governance best practices with BC’s largest non-government social service agency. The non-profit sector matched Sas’ values and she earned a degree in Non-Profit Management at Simon Fraser University. As long as she can remember, Sas has loved tap dance and at age 39 decided it was time to take some tap lessons! In 1995, Sas co- founded the Vancouver Tap Dance Society, and in 1999 assumed the role of Executive Director. Under her leadership the organization received charitable status and now receives funding from all 3 levels of government. VTDS’s mandate includes the annual Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival, community outreach and TapCo- a youth performance ensemble that tours BC and has entertained over 150,000 people. The engine of the Society is the Tap Academy that provides a comprehensive program for all ages and skill levels and attracts over 200 students each year.VTDS provides highquality studio rental, and access to masters of tap through workshops and the Academy’s Artist in Residence program. As an advocate for the arts, Sas’ life is richer because of tap dance and values those relationships. She is dedicated to the individuals and organizations that strengthen community arts development in general and tap dance in particular.

We need Wood! 14

Dance Central March/April 2016

Central November/December 2015

12 Dance


Other Movements:

A Conversation with

Sas Selfjord

AK: It seems that Vancouver has become one of the global cen-

AK: Is there a strong tap presence in Canada, or is it more of

tres for tap.

a North American community?

SS: I don't know if it is, but I think we are recognized as one of

SS: There is a Canadian community. One of our leaders here

the hubs for the art form, and in particular for the Vancouver In-

is Danny Nielsen, who came five or six years ago from Cal-

ternational Tap Festival, where we bring in masters and legends

gary to be our artist in residence and has never looked back.

of tap. I think what makes us stand apart from the hundreds of

He was a recipient of the Santa Aloi Award, he has cre-

other festivals is that we are a presentation festival; we used to

ated new work, and we have presented him at the festival.

follow the typical tap festival format, which is to bring in fac-

Vancouver has a very strong community, and lots of dancers

ulty and offer a range of classes and master classes, and at the

have got their chops here. There was a time when you had

end roll out a performance, cobbled together with one day of

to go to Los Angeles or New York to get training but Van-

technical rehearsal. These are usually a series of solos; lovely

couver has become fertile training ground - we have raised

performances, because the performers are the best in the world

several generations of tap dancers right here.

and the innovators that we have in the form, but not coherent shows. About seven years ago, I thought that we could do more

AK: One striking aspect to the form is that it is so intergen-

for audiences. I saw tap artists in the international scene creat-

erational...

ing new work, but it was staying in the studio because there just weren't any funders, which is a systemic issue in tap. We are

SS: Yes, just look at the masters, many of whom are 75, 80

the poor cousins in the commercial dance studios, where there

years old. We have an academy in Vancouver where we

is ballet and jazz, and then, if there is any time left, they may put

offer tap from baby preschool classes, all the way up to

a tap class in their schedule. The funding is limited, the creation

seniors programmes for people 80 and 90 years old, and

opportunities are static and it is expensive to put up a show. At

training for pre-professional and professional artists. Across

the same time, there were artists coming together and you could

Canada there are strong tap companies in Alberta, in Calgary

see that they had work, and so I thought 'Let's make a strategic

with Tasha Lawson and Jenna Werhun in Edmonton, and in

decision: We will continue with the master classes, because

Toronto with Travis Knights and Alison Toffan, who are a real

that’s great for the development of the community, but let us

hub of talent and passion committed to the art form. And

also be a presenter of the art form. Let's find shows that are fully

yet, the performing opportunities for artists in tap are slim.

developed, true and tested with audiences, and for artists who

There are great festivals across North America, especially

have put a whole year into creating something and need a pre-

in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Austin, who provide

sentation platform, let's be that platform!' We started bringing in

platforms for people to perform, but they don't present

companies, we commissioned work, and we got a grant from the

complete shows.

BC Arts Council's Innovations Program. A couple of years ago, we presented Dorrance Dance, who have taken the tap world

AK: In its historical context of Vaudeville shows, tap was

by storm, especially because Michelle Dorrance, who was our

linked to the song format, rather than designed for evening

artist in residence, was just awarded the MacArthur Foundation

length shows, was it not?

'Genius Award'— $625,000, no questions asked. Not bad, for tap! SS: Good point. Yes, it was a case of 'bring in the tap dancer' AK: Impresssive!

when things started to die in the house, but the full development of the art form by the masters like Jimmy Slyde and

SS: That also shows something about our capacity, as a little

'Cholly' Atkins and 'Honi' Coles came out of the relationship

studio on the East side of Vancouver. We are able to connect

with jazz musicians, and performing in places like the Cotton

to someone like her, ask her to be our artist in residence for a

Club. That died a little bit, but tap remained very popular. I

couple of weeks, and have her say, 'Yes, I am going to see if I can

was at a New Works show recently, with Troy McLaughlin,

make it work.'

which was sold out, with 200 people in attendance. Still, we Da nce Central March/April 2016

15


Other Movements:

We need Wood. A conversation with Sas Selfjord

to canned music. I said to him: How about you present that at our festival and we take it from canned to live?" Derick agreed, we workshopped the show on Gabriola Island, with musicians from Vancouver and Derick got to go home

are constantly beating the bushes, and trying to connect to the

with fifteen charts. That is an element that sets us apart as a

larger dance community.

festival.

AK: Flamenco artists like Rosario Ancer make a similar point:

AK: Recent developments in creating interactive control sys-

the flamenco community has a large following and a successful

tems have reached the point where dancers should be able

festival, but they feel isolated from the mainstream of the dance

to control sound and media by gesture, or body position,

community. Do you feel the same way?

and tap seems uniquely suited to make use of that kind of interface which may be a bit easier to fund than a live band,

SS: It is curious that percussive art forms are isolated in this way.

because the researchers who are developing this technol-

It's dance, and we are all connected, but there is a systemic is-

ogy have money and are always looking for what they call

sue in the art form, which we have to address. As a presenter, I

'content', Dancers and theatre companies are adopting it, but

see artists like Troy committing to developing work, and bringing

I wonder if it might suit the musical needs of tap especially

in musicians, but I am sure he would have liked to have other

well.

resources. Funding limits us; this is the soap box I am currently on. We just received a grant from the Canada Council, to hold a

SS: That is interesting. There are a few dancers, such as,

conference just prior to our festival. We held one in 2009, which

Nicholas Young, New York, who are interfacing tap with

brought in 65 leaders from across Canada; the outcome was that

other sound mediums. Tap Dancers have a strong musical

we networked, but it also had a profound impact on the commu-

connection. For instance, Barbara Vargas, is just complet-

nity, and connected us on a different level. Alison Toffan and Tra-

ing a music degree at Vancouver Community College, as

vis Knights, who are now leaders nationally, went home after that

a musician — but with shoes, not saxophone or piano. So

conference and started developing the community at the grass-

tap dancers who are at their A game are musicians, and

roots level. Now, seven years later, I feel it needs another push.

anybody who has ever worked with seasoned performers

There is a whole new generation of dancers, and we have grown

agrees to this. Musicians are amazed at the level of musi-

artistically, but we need to take stock: What are doing? What are

cianship. Tap artists have an innate capacity to be improvis-

we doing wrong? What is it we are not doing and what do we

ers, just as any skilled Jazz musician. It is an essential part of

need to do? How can we come together nationally, and, perhaps

the art form.

collaboratively, in a presenters' network? We need a platform, and that is one of the things I am hoping we will be successful

AK: Have tap artists also used interactive technology?

at. Vancouver Tap Dance Society just submitted a social innovation project grant to the Vancouver Foundation (who changed

SS: Some have, but what locks us down is where we can

all their criteria). It is a dream to host a conference and produce

perform, because we need wood, so to put a tap artist into

a show that we can present at the festival. It is also a challenge,

another environment and interface it with some kind of

but I feel that we are just at that place in our community— we

soundscape, may not be possible. We need wood! There are

are vibrant, the creative tools are there, the technical prowess is

projects like the pop up dances in Vancouver, but it is about

there, but where do we land it? People love tap! Yes, there have

the floor, which is the bane of our existence. Vancouver Tap

always been artistic merit questions: 'Is it hammy?' 'Is it com-

has built a portable maple floor that we can lay down for

mercial?' but now people are seeing shows with a through-line, a

performances and is available to the percussive community.

beginning, a middle, and end. Another important aspect is that it should always be performed with live musicians. Canned music

AK: Tap is an interesting amalgam of Northern European

has its uses, but our festival would not present a show that didn't

vertical dance traditions, like Irish clogging, and African slave

include live musicians. Last year, Derick Grant, an internationally

dancing— is it a quintessentially American art form?

recognized artist, premiered a show in New York, which he created around the theme of the romantic golden Hollywood era, all 16

Dance Central March/April 2016

SS: Historically perhaps, but it is world wide now, and there


"I think we have moved beyond the idea that tap is a novelty act, but many people are not aware of the talent that we have in this city, or the shows that are being presented during the festival, so we remain an insider affair, and we need to move beyond that."

are vibrant communities in places like Korea, a huge community in Japan, Australia, Taiwan, China, Brazil, and all over Europe, especially Germany and France. Barcelona also has a rich tap community. AK: Is there an overlap between tap and flamenco? SS: Artists do cross over. Oscar Nieto runs his classes from our studio, Joel Hanna who works in Irish/flamenco/tap also accesses our studio. Dayna Szyndrowski who is a fabulous tap dancer, has crossed over into flamenco, and is fusing the forms. It is natural, and there are artistic elements that expand both art forms. And there is the Irish tradition, and Riverdance... AK: I was going to ask about it, although I wasn't sure how it relates to tap dance... SS: Riverdance was great for tap dance. It's rhythms and beats, it's wood shoe, which means a different sound, and it's a different posture, it's in unison, but it was enormously popular. AK: The society has an actual building to its name. How did that come about? SS: Of course sustainability of any dance form is a question of venue access. We bought our building in 2011. Why we thought we could buy commercial real estate in Vancouver without a capital campaign and virtually no capacity to run one remains a mystery. We had leased it for more than ten years, and when we did our due diligence, we realized that any place we could rent would cost us twice what we were paying, and we would have to renovate, so when we found out that our building was being advertised for a little over a million dollars, I suggested to the board 'Let us just put an offer in, with all kinds of subjects, and see if we can be in the game.' As it turns out, they accepted. It had been the Evelyn Ward's studio since 1947, and the family had an emotional attachment and wanted to keep it as a studio, so we bought it, and although we now carry a substantial mortgage, we have a building. We have secured an anchor tenant which brings our mortgage down to what it has always been, and now we have a piece of real estate in a flourishing real estate market. We had visions that we could develop it into a similar space as Scotiabank Dance Centre, and perhaps we may be able to eventually, but for now it is a space dedicated in perpetuity to the percussive art form, and it has a wonderful wood floor. Artists need a home, and our studio provides community access; if anyone is rehearsing and creating, they know they can access the studio, and we are proud of this contribution we have made to the art form. AK: Personally, you came to tap late in life? SS: I did, although I first tapped when I was six years old dancing to .... Tiptoe the dancing Elf... AK: And you returned to it? SS: I did, thirty four years later, but I always loved it. I knew the history of the art form, I knew the masters, I had seen the films, and if there was a performance, I was there, so Da nce Central March/April 2016

17


A conversation with Sas Selfjord

We need Wood.

SS: Labour day weekend, and following that, I usually do 'Gabriola on Tap', for twenty five pre-professional tap dancers who have to audition. AK: Is tap developing? Are there new directions?

when I took it up again, while I was working in neighbourhood houses in social services and taking my degree in

SS: There is development, but there are also elements we need

non-profit management, I loved taking tap lessons, and

to add. For example, tap needs to be included in jazz festivals.

I had an amazing adult teacher, Lana Caputi. I became

That's a natural fusion. Last year, we brought Sarah Reich up from

sort of obsessive about it, and I wanted to get to a certain

Los Angeles with her tap music project, and it was a big thing for

level, which I did, for a minute. I can do a time step, and

our festival. We brought five of her dancers, as well as five top-of

if you can't tap you'll think 'She can tap,' but not really;

their-game musicians from LA, and her project was: 'Here are my

no one is ever going to pay to see me, but I danced and

rhythms, here is my choreography'— and the musicians set music

performed at a recreational level for about ten years. I

to it, as opposed to the usual process. The only affordable way to

even taught tap on Gabriola for a minute. We formed the

bring them up was to interface them with all the master classes.

Vancouver Tap Society in 1995, and started with twelve

That program decision really changed the face of our festival-

students—we currently have 225—and we have a couple

half of our classes were dedicated to musicianship, notation, and

hundred pairs of tap shoes for our outreach program, in

understanding how to talk to musicians. Tap dancers develop

both kids and adult sizes. We load them up in a trunk and

technique through training but they need to know how to talk to

go out to children's festivals and neighbourhood houses

musicians.

and teach tap. And people who come to the academy to take classes, particularly kids who just want to try and

AK: Do tap, ballet, modern and other forms ever meet?

don't have the resources, or the commitment to buy shoes, rent their shoes, and take them home and keep

SS: There has occasionally been a fusion between tap and hip

them all year. I think that's a neat program.

hop, in experimental approaches, whether with contemporary, lyrical or ballet. What I would love to see is tap interfacing with

AK: When is your festival?

symphony orchestras. There is the Morton Gould concerto, which every tap dancer worth their salt is familiar with, and Opus One,

18

Da nce Central March/April 2016


is amazing when you put a big band behind the dancer, but

presented during the festival, so we remain an insider affair, and

putting that out to the public is always a question of time and

we need to move beyond that. We have been preaching to the

money...

choir for too many years. If the dance community at large could see this dance form at its most creative, maybe it would be inspir-

AK: The hip hop connection is interesting. Do performers

ing to them to include collaboration. It's like anything: If you see

come from hip hop and go to tap or the other way around?

the best in the world, it will inspire you. That's one of the things this city has access to: Some of the world renowned artists, per-

SS: The young dancers want to be more, and that shows

formers, master classes and presentations during the festival.

everywhere. Jason Samuels who is an internationally highly regarded artist did a show with Indian Kathak. Savion Glover,

AK: Tap is an encounter between different cultures, and to some

a giant of tap, brought a classical ballerina to his work. The

extent the show business aspect has flattened that, or made it

younger tap crowd, when they freestyle, will bring hip hop

safer, in the same way that Jazz was permissible when it was

into tap, but I think it is more tap dancers wanting to expand

stuck in a showcase, and what was potentially threatening to the

and reach into hip hop than the other way around. Tap is

status quo in Jazz became contained by being commercialized, or

not easy to learn; there is a tremenduous amount of tech-

contained in a frame, and that interests me. Is there a way for tap

nique development, akin to doing scales on the piano, and

to regain some of that?

you have to work on those shuffles every day if you want to be proficient at it. Tap dancers bring in jazz, contemporary,

SS: Tap dance has a range of stylistic choices, and it has the com-

freestyle, some hip hop, and small pockets of people will

plexity to morph into a defined frame, or no boundaries. It can get

experiment with other elements, but the art form is what it is:

stuck in the “shuffle off to buffalo� fare, but I see it time and time

It's rhythm, it's percussive.

again, when a new audience member sees the creative capacity of the artists who dedicate their life to honing the craft, they say

AK: What are hoping to do next?

'I never knew tap dance could be like this!'

SS: To bust through existing stereotypes and systemic issues.

AK: Thank you!

We have moved beyond the idea that it is a novelty act, but the dance community and audiences are not aware of the talent that we have in this city, or the shows that are being

Dance Central March/April 2016

15


Thinking Bodies: A conversation with Sujit Vaidya

continued from page 6

your experience, on how developed you are and how potent your imagination is. I have been very lucky to work with and observe my current master teacher, A. Lakshman in performance and to get to know his process. I see how laid back his actual process is before the performance; it's about listening to the music. He is very clear about the lyrics and what they mean, and he has a certain idea of what he is going to present, but he is so open that I am scared for him when he goes on stage, because there is nothing set. Classical forms take a lot of discipline to present, but when I see him on stage, with the sheer sense of abandon he has, because of the depth of his knowledge, and he literally creates on stage, that is an amazing experience. For me, the language plays an important role: If you understand the poetry and the nuances, then you are relating to that to the character. In my case, Tamil is not my mother tongue, but I make it a point to understand the composition thoroughly, and when I am performing, I know what every line means, in its word to word meaning, and the subtext which is where one’s imagination comes into play and every gesture is informed by that. The other aspect is that I hesitate to make the performance literal for the audience. They only need to be willing to enter into the performance space and interpret what I present based on their own sensibilities. I love the fact that people who have never been exposed to bharatanatyam sometimes comment on things they have picked up, which were completely outside my realm of thinking when I created the piece. It is beautiful how things translate, and I do it, too: Sometimes I go to contemporary dance, and I come out absolutely flummoxed as to what has transpired, and that is okay. If a piece is created intelligently enough, people can always walk away with something, even if they all have a different idea, and as classical or bharatanatyam dancers we don't have to explain every gesture. Of course it is nuanced, every gesture has a specific meaning, and it is nice to understand it on that level, but there are always different levels on which one can understand art. If I was attracted to an art form outside my experience, I would expose myself, and research it, and perhaps the next time I would appreciate it on another level. AK: Is that how you came to bharatanatyam? SV: Yes. It is not something that belongs to the cultural space that I grew up in. It is an art form from Tamil Nadu, and if you are not from that particular state, even if you are in India, there is a chance you will not have been exposed to it. I did have some exposure to bharatanatyam artists when I grew up, and I found beauty in the 20

Da nce Central March/April 2016

gestures, and in the physicality, and as I started learning it and got deeper into it, I started to understand the nuances of the music and rhythm in all its complexities. It speaks to me differently now, but it started off as a very foreign art form. AK: What got you interested in the first place? SV: My dance journey is what I call a 'bonus story' in my life. I knew early on that I was very attracted to dance, but I didn't have a chance to formally learn it until late in life. The first time I saw bharatanatyam, I was in the sixth grade. Our school had a cultural program and every class had to present something once a week, and there were two girls in my class who were learning bharatanatyam and six girls who were practicing a piece for one of the cultural programs that I saw. I remember being glued to the musicality or rhythms and the movement; I don't know what I saw at that point but it just spoke to me‚— the music, the drums, the red paint, the flowers, the smells. All that stayed with me. AK: Where was this? SV: In Bombay, where I grew up. So this was my limited exposure in the context of school shows. My sister dabbled for a few months in Kathak, and she was not having fun but I used to accompany her to all of the classes; I still remember the space, but I wasn't bold enough to tell my parents that I wanted to take up dancing, for whatever reason. I know now, in hindsight that they would have been completely supportive, but that wasn't meant to be my journey, so I started formally learning bharatanatyam from Jai Govinda, artistic director of Mandala Arts & Culture, here in Vancouver. I was looking for residencies after writing my medical licensing exams here, and I had six months between getting a residency and exploring life. Bharatanatyam had stayed with me, but I had no idea that Mandala existed. When I googled 'bharatanatyam', I found that I lived seven minutes away from the school, so I thought why not try a class. I can't explain the connection, but after one class I knew I felt different. I also knew that realistically this was not something I would be able to pursue professionally, because people start when they are six years old and it takes years and years to develop, but I thought 'I can just be involved.' The more I went to


"Bharatanatyam, the way it is danced now, does not look remotely like how the dance form looked a couple decades back, because the world does not look the same. Therefore our influences, sensibilities and experiences are not the same. The grammar might stay the same, but the language of expression is current."

Photo by Chris Randle

Da nce Central March/April 2016

21


Alison Denham

Thinking Bodies:

A conversation with Sujit Vaidya

the professional scene in Vancouver is still very small, especially for classical dance. You would think that with all the students of bharatanatyam there would be a few that might want to explore it further but there is less than a handful. Also, we have poor audience participation from students of dance. I get a lot of non-bharatnatyam audiences, which is fantastic, since I want to have a dialogue with as many people as possible in the language of my

class, however, the more I realized that I just lived for that hour on Saturday, and that I needed to do more, so I requested from another teacher at Mandala to get some extra classes because I felt that time wasn't on my side, and I really wanted to get as much information as possible, Luckily, they saw my passion and obliged me. That's how it started, and the opportunities and teachers, at the right time and a lot of hard work made my career possible. It really wasn't planned until a couple of years ago. AK: Traditional art forms in India are often tied to family traditions, and a performer’s career may well be determined before they are even born. This is quite a different path than responding to an individual calling and choosing, or being chosen by, an art form. SV: Exactly, the question is “Do we choose?", or as I like to believe, that it is the art form that chooses us. The people who make a mark on the professional stage, and whose artistry I connect with, have been chosen by the form, and have chosen to be in it professionally, which is a tough choice with no material reward but for the immense love of the dance. Without wanting to generalize, people who have come to their art through family connections and hierarchy have a certain advantage, but I feel that sometimes one might not fully appreciate something that was handed to them and take it for granted. There are of course also artists who come from these families who have created fantastic work and created their own personality in the dance form. Right now, there are a lot of exiting bharatanatyam artists on the horizon, with quite a few from North America—they have had training in India and have been exposed to the form early in their lives, of course—but they have settled here. It is interesting to see that a lot of current artists who are creating and performing at a high level have stayed outside of India. AK: How is the scene in Vancouver developing? Are you part of the greater dance community or is it still a separate entity? SV: It is still very much a separate entity, although Jai Govinda has done really good work with the Gait to the Spirit Festival, in bringing some good artists and exposure for students of dance, but

22

Da nce Central March/April 2016

creation, but I often wonder about the lack of interest from students of dance. It makes me wonder why they study bharatanatyam. Is it just a cultural activity perhaps or a— AK: —hobby? That is probably the least preferred word. An avocation? SV: Yes. I say this because the platforms that are available to present classical dance on a professional level are very limited, and so what ends up happening is, we often self-present work. So students that might be pursuing it as a hobby get to be the face of the dance form and that works to our disadvantage, because of how the form is represented, especially to someone who comes to see it for the first time. If we had a larger number of professional artists, it would help. That's the difference between us and the contemporary dance world, where there are so many companies and independent artists, each with a different point of view, a way of creating beautiful work, and so organizers and audiences can choose what they want to present and connect with. That is not available to us. That distinction between professional and casual needs to be made. AK: I find myself talking to a number of artists in similar situations— flamenco for example, or tap, which are very popular but struggle to find a place in the ecology of presented professional dance, and to cross that invisible but definite divide between forms that have access to resources, to public profile, and to critical reception, and those that remain on the fringes. If you look twenty years into the future, do you have a sense that bharatanatyam will have more opportunities? SV: I hope so, and I think the next generation will be the one that carries it forward. Our responsibility is to change the conversation around classical dancing, because most of us are tired of having the traditional versus contempo-


"I love the fact that people who have never been exposed to bharatanatyam sometimes comment on things they have picked up, which were completely outside my realm of thinking when I created the piece."

AK: Is there a sense of Canadian community, especially with artists in Toronto? SV: Toronto is a very different space than Vancouver because the scene is very large, and it can get very fragmented. But pioneers like Lata Pada have done and continue to do groundbreaking work in establishing such a commanding presence in the Toronto dance scene. She has not stayed stagnant, but evolved with the times and has stayed true to the core of the art form while continuing to push it further. Vancouver, on the other hand, is a small community and that creates an opportunity for the younger generation of artists to move forward, because if we want to make a mark in the mainstream dance world, we need to be able to appreciate, promote and be involved with each other’s process and push it forward as a team, in order to make our art visible to people who may not be aware of it. I think we need to start visualizing ourselves as a cohesive movement; that will open more doors, and then, in twenty years, I imagine the scene will look very different. AK: Are there artists writing new poetry for bharatanatyam now?

rary arguments, because they tend to box us in. We have to elevate the standards of representation, and the way we package

SV: Yes, for example Malavika Sarukkai. To call her a genius is

our work. If we keep making it about cultural heritage, which is

an understatement. She works with a composer, but all the

the one aspect we have been successful in promoting, then that

ideas she gets from her exposure to different realms inform her

is the conversation we will be stuck with, and if the conversa-

work; a painting she may have seen, or the resonance of a gong

tion is to become broader than that, if we want to give ourselves

she may have heard. She is able to write poetry that translates

the freedom to create and explore in collaborations and in our

these sensations into the realm of bharatanatyam, and without

individual practices, then that broadening in our artistry needs

straying from the grammar and elements like the mudras, she

to happen. Different voices need to be heard, and artists from

creates something completely new, that has nothing to do with

different spaces need to be connected. There is the potential

the set repertoire. I only cite her as an example as she has been

for that to happen, where we go beyond presenting one kind of

consistently successful at it, but it is almost the norm for artists

work. For myself, my connection is with the traditional aspect of

performing on a professional level to collaborate with musicians

the art form, and I love creating within that grammar. I don't find

to create and compose music or set different texts and poems

the movement vocabulary a limitation, and I love creating from

to dance. So even the repertoire is constantly evolving.

that base. Having said that, everything I connect with in this space is informed by my urban sensibilities and my existence

AK: Do the musicians work outside the traditional instrumenta-

in today’s world. If we can develop an infrastructure for danc-

tion of the Karnatic ensemble?

ers who want to pursue bharatanatyam professionally, that will take us into a different space. The other aspect is that main-

SV: Absolutely. Anil Srinivasan, a pianist, and others have cre-

stream festivals need to open their doors to presenting more

ated new compositions for piano, and there are a lot of artists

diverse art forms—I hate using the word 'diverse' but that is still

like Anoushka Shankar for example, whose music lends itself

how we are grouped— and to educate themselves in terms of

perfectly to dance. Music is music after all, and if it moves you,

what bharatanatyam is like at a professional level, and become

then you are compelled to visualize and create movement and

familiar with its professional performers across Canada. There

expression.

are people who are pushing bharatanatyam forward, and they deserve to be noticed.

AK: Thank you!

Da nce Central March/April 2016

23


Dance Central March/April 2016

Dance Central March / April 2016  

The Dance Centre Bi-Monthly Publication for Members and the Dance Community

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