Tucked away inside rehearsal studios and embedded among stellar theatre/dance productions around Toronto, few “artistic gems” have raised the status of their craft beyond narrow definitions of culture and language.
Case in point: Nova Bhattacharya. An award-winning Bharatnatyam dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Nova Dance.
Nova strapped on the traditional dance anklet (ghungroo), a heavy musical belt sewn with tiny brass bells, worn by classical Indian dancers at age 7. Metaphorically, she hasn’t taken them off since.
“Bharatnatyam as an art form has a rich history of repertoire and an amazing potential to say new and different things,” Nova explained. “Watching artists (from different genres) gave me the desire to use the paint box I had to paint a new and different picture. Instead of painting it as a ‘varnam’ or ‘padam,’ I wanted to create something the audiences can experience even if they don’t understand the language…”
If you’re imagining a dance performance where the dancers are garbed in brightly-coloured Kanjeevaram sarees with their hair plaited and adorned with flowers and their eyes accentuated with dark kohl, you’ll be wrong. So wrong.
Imagine then, a dancer dressed in distressed jeans and a crimson-coloured sleeveless t-shirt or a flowing black gown with thigh-high slits swaying to the beats of techno-music combined with Carnatic music ragas. Sounds exotic? It’s mesmerizing (watch the video below).
The tug of dance
At age 7, renowned Bharatnatyam dancer Menaka Thakkar, accepted Nova as her student (incidentally, Nova was the first graduate of the Nrytyakala Dance Academy, Thakkar’s Toronto dance school).
And thus, began a journey fraught with ups and downs, headaches and heartaches, awards and accolades.
In her teens, Nova briefly shoved away her dreams and headed to Carleton University to pursue journalism. She dropped out after a year and was joyfully reunited with her passion when Menaka’s sister invited her to perform at a dance festival she was hosting.
Not one to remain boxed within the confines of prescribed norms, Nova broke free once she had mastered the nuances.
“I call the work I am doing as contemporary Bharatnatyam,” Nova says. “When I say contemporary, I mean the technique of Bharatnatyam, but using the tools of the art form in a different context.”
The Torontonian’s dance catalogues are experiments of the psyche woven together with compelling music, minimalistic set production and clean lines. It’s abstract storytelling. Take for instance, Infinite Storms (2017), a performance where Nova internalizes the debilitating pain of migraines into a dance routine or Akshongay for which she received a Dora nod for outstanding choreography.
Nova’s upcoming show, Decoding Bharatnatyam, unravels several layers of classical dance fused with modern sensibilities. Visualise the complex, but rigid footwork and hand movements of Bharatnatyam, flawlessly melding into the fluid moves of contemporary dance.
The show, hosted by Citadel + Compagnie (C+C) will feature three performances: Broken Lines, an award-winning duet by Neena Jayarajan and Atri Nundy; Alaap by Lucy Rupert and Calm Abiding, executed by Nova and choreographed by Venezuela-born, Montreal-based contemporary choreographer, José Navas.
“In (Broken Lines) Neena and Atri will delve deep into their (Bharatnatyam) training and improvise it,” Nova explained. “Instead of giving the artists a set choreography, I gave them a set of tasks to complete on the stage so that even if the audience does not know anything about Indian mythology, they are still able to connect to the dance through the performance of two skilled dancers.”
Decoding Bharatnatyam runs, Feb. 14-17, 2018 at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance, 304 Parliament St., Toronto, M5A 2Z6. Cost of tickets is $25/person and $20 (artists) and can be purchased by calling: 416-364-8011 ext. 1 or by visiting here (citadelcie.com).