Nova Bhattacharya’s contemporary Bharatnatyam blurs cultural lines in Toronto

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Photo by John Launer

Toronto-based contemporary Bharatnatyam dancer Nova Bhattacharya, will be presenting a show, Decoding Bharatnatyam, Feb. 14-17 at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance, 304 Parliament St., Toronto. Photo by John Launer.

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).

“In Decoding Bharatnatyam, I, a Bengali-Canadian will be performing a Bharatnatyam dance choreographed by a Venezuelan-Canadian, proficient in the Cunningham dance technique that isolates body parts, believes in simplistic movements set to the background of complicated scores,” Nova explains.
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Neena Jayarajan and Atri Nundy will perform Broken Lines, an award-winning dance, Feb. 14-17 at The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance, 304 Parliament St., Toronto. Photo by Ed Hanley.

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.

Decoding Nova

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).

 

 

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Let’s warm our hearts with these Sankranti celebrations in Toronto

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coconutUntil, Jan. 7

Event: Butterflies of India
Details: Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, 2500 Kossuth Rd., Cambridge Ont., has a pair of South Asian exhibits running until Jan. 7. First, in the Butterflies of India, visitors can enjoy thousands of freely flying butterflies in the conservatory. Secondly, in the Ornamenting the ordinary: crafts of South Asia, enjoy several artistic styles, craftsmanship and traditions from South Asia.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Jan. 13

Event: Sankranti Sambarulu
Details: The Telegu Alliances of Canada (TACA) will host its annual Sankranti celebrations at the Glenforest Secondary School, 3575 Fieldgate Rd. Mississauga from 5 p.m. onwards. Contact: Here

Event: Lohri Shagna Di
Details: Head to Mississauga Palace for Lohri celebration- Lohri Shagna DI, 2360 Lucknow Drive. Event will start at 6:30 pm and end at 11:00pm.
Contact: Here 

rangoliSunday, January, 14

Event: Must be Kismet
Details: Must be Kisment, a wedding show  geared towards South Asians will take place from noon to 6 p.m. at the International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd., Mississauga.
Contact: Here

Event: Thai Pongal
Details: The Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation Canada, 80 Brydon Dr. Etobicoke has several poojas happening all month long including Jan. 15 for Pongal.
Contact: Here

Friday, Jan. 19

Event: Jash-E-Lohri
Details: Head to the Maverick Music Hall in Barrie, 46 Dunlop St. Ont. For a Lohri celebration at 8 p.m.
Contact: Here 

Saturday, Jan. 20

Event: Tamil Heritage Festival
Details: Transnational Government for Tamil Eelam (TGTE) will host a Tamil Heritage Festival Celebration at the Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute Auditorium, located on 550 Markham Rd. Scarborough, ON M1H 2A2. The festival will begin at 5:30 pm and wrap up at 8:30 pm.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Jan. 21

Event: Panorama Indian Idol
Details: Audition for the Panorama Indian Idol gets underway at Michael Power/St. Joseph Secondary School, 105 Eringate Dr. Etobicoke, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Contact: Here 

Wednesday, Jan. 24

Event: Thai Pongal
Details: Enjoy Tamil Heritage Month as well as Thai Pongal celebrations at the Scarborough Convention Centre, 20 Torham Pl. Toronto from 6 to 9 p.m.
Contact: Here 

 

 

 

Toronto singer Shweta Subram’s new single ‘Rasiya’ proves her vocal chops

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Shweta Main

Toronto singer Shweta Subram’s new single Rasiya hits all the right notes. Photo supplied by Shweta.

With songs in Hindi and Tamil movies, performances at the IIFA Awards, Carnegie hall as well as funky YouTube covers, Shweta Subram still evades Bollywood.

So, why has this talented singer/composer has chosen to not move to Mumbai and pursue Bollywood? Read on to find out.

Shweta’s just-dropped single Rasiya clearly plays to her strengths: her training in Carnatic and Hindustani music, her musical IQ and ability to single-handedly shoulder the composition.

“I have been told I have a different timbre to my voice and that I should make sure the instrumentation does not overpower my vocals,” Shweta said in a telephonic conversation recently. “In Rasiya, I went with something that had an acoustic feel to it…it’s a song that can very easily be placed in a film.”

Playback singing has its moments

To cap off on what’s been an exciting few weeks, Shweta’s rendition Mella Mella (composed by Ghibran) in a just-released Tamil Sci-Fi film Mayavaan, has been garnering attention.

This desi singer has experienced several note-worthy moments in her career: she has won several coveted singing competitions. The prize of one included a  personalized music lesson (via Skype) with Shankar Mahadevan, an opportunity to share the stage with Salim-Sulaiman during the Toronto IIFA Awards, singing with/for Ayushman Khurana, flawlessly rendering the national anthems of both, Canada and India during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Toronto and more. So much more.

Yet, Shweta prefers to live in Canada and travel (if necessary) to India and other countries. She’s somewhat reluctant to chase the limelight. She would prefer, it (limelight) came calling for her talent.

It’s well-known music labels, studios and producers, all profit on the backs of talent. Ironic, isn’t it? When you consider the pivotal role music plays in Bollywood films. I know for a fact, artists spend hours hopping from studio to studio clutching demo tapes and flicker of hope in their hearts. It’s a long and lonely path.

Music as a calling

It’s a game Shweta doesn’t want to play. She would rather spend her time in front of a mic or collaborating or composing with like-minded individuals.

Toronto singer Shweta Subram performing to a crowd

Shweta Subram’s just-released single Rasiya showcases her powerful vocals. Photo supplied by Shweta.

“When I was in India (recently), I did go to studios,” she admits adding it wasn’t really her cup of tea. “Kudos to people who can sit (in the waiting rooms of studios) for hours on end. I have realized talent alone is not enough to succeed within the Indian music industry. It’s whom you can please…I cannot pretend to be someone I am not.”

Oh, wait, what? Did you say, Sunny Leone?

Shweta has provided the background score for Netflix’s Mostly Sunny, a film on Sunny Leone, a Canadian, making her mark in the Indian film industry.

“It was a great opportunity for me (sitting here in North America) to get a call from the studios asking if I had anything,” Shweta said. “I believe it’s kismet, having the talent, and being prepared to deliver when opportunity knocks. It’s more than being in the right place at the right time…”

But, it was a chance meeting with The Piano Guys that launched Shweta into the stratosphere. The Piano Guys, the superstars of social media are a band of musically driven men, who in their attempt to market pianos in rather unconventional ways, ended up creating a powerful brand.

The hit of all hits

So, The Piano Guys approached Shweta and asked her to compose/sing what was an Indian music inspired cover adapted from Swedish House Mafia’s tune Don’t You Worry Child.

The video, featuring John Schmidt (piano), Steven Nelson (cello) and Shweta (vocals/composition) has garnered 20 million views and still counting.

“The response, reach and reaction to the video was phenomenal,” says Shweta. “The video launched my credentials, not just to Indians, but world over. In 2015, I performed at the famed Carnegie Hall and it was an absolute-dream-come true…”

Shweta’s work ethics and talent appears to have impressed The Piano Guys.

“Shweta immediately stood out to us – her smile was so genuine and contagious,” say The Piano Guys, in their website. “She naturally emitted such an amiability in her stage presence that we were drawn to her performance. Her voice effortlessly depicted an Indian classical vibe while still being completely accessible.”

In the coming months, Shweta will be releasing more singles and doing what she’s best at—making music.

After my chat with Shweta, I realized: Fame isn’t what happens to you in Bollywood alone, sometimes, it’s what you become when you stay away from it.

Merry Christmas, Toronto

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Toronto Desi Diaries wishes everyone a Merry Christmas.

Christmas

Sunday, Dec. 10

Event: SOCH workshop
Details: Supporting Our Community’s Health (SOCH), will be hosting a series of mental health workshops, to increase awareness and education about what depression is and how it can be treated. These interactive workshops will take place in both English and Punjabi at the Chinguacousy Branch Library, 150 Central Park Dr. at 1:30. On the agenda: Kundalini Yoga for Depression by Harvir Grewal.
Contact: Here

Event: SACHHS Gala
Details: South Asian Canadians Health & Social Services (SACHSS), a registered not- for-profit charity offering services that include mental health, addiction, stress management, anger management and more is hosting a fundraising gala at Natraj Banquet Hall, 7275 Torbram Rd., Mississauga at 5 p.m. Dr. Hamid Slimi is the guest speaker.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Dec. 16

Event: Swayamvar Toronto
Details: Desi Dreamz is hosting its singles event for South Asians between 26 to 47 years. The event will take place at Novotel Toronto, 3670 Hurontario St., Mississauga from3 p.m. onward.
Contact: Here

Friday, Dec. 22

Event: Disney on Ice
Details: Enjoy the magic of winter with family at Disney On Ice with Reach For The Stars, a brand new show featuring a host of beloved Disney characters and stories. The shows run until Jan. 1 at Toronto Theatre, 1 Blue Jays Way.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Dec. 31

Event: New Year’s Eve
Details: PGA International will be hosting its annual New Year’s bash at Moonlight Convention Centre, 6835 Professional Crt., Mississauga. Festivities start at 7:30 p.m. and will continue until 2:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Event: Bollywood Hungama
Details: Bollywood Tunes and Kalpesh Patel are hosting NYE 2018 at Chandani Convention Centre, 5 Gateway Blvd. Brampton from 6:30 p.m. onward.
Contact: Here

 

Autumn in Toronto: when leaves are flowers and events are all just as mellow

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fall colours

This file photo by the late Fred Loek, Metroland photographer, captures the surreal beauty of autumn at Erindale Park in Mississauga.

Saturday, Nov. 4

Event: Tribute to Mohammad. Rafi
Details: Mehboob Shaikh will recreate the dulcet tones of one of India’s greatest musicians – Mohammad Rafi. The concert is taking place at Port Credit Secondary School Theatre, 70 Mineola Rd. E. from 5 to 8:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Event: Meri Awaz hi pehchan hai
Details: It’s the audition for Mere sung gaa’s 2nd season, Bollywood karaoke singing. Bring your voice and energy to Rehearsal Factory, 1611 Finfar Crt. in Mississauga at noon.
Contact: Here

Event: Flower City Bhangra
Details: Saath Foundation is presenting Canada’s first-ever live-only Bhangra Competition at Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. Brampton at 11 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 18

Event: Grand finale of Meri Awaaz
Details: The final showing of talent of the Mere Sung Gaa is happening at the Chinguacousy Secondary School, 1370 Williams Pkwy. at 5:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Thursday, Nov. 23

Event: Passage to Bollywood
Details: A Passage to Bollywood is a vibrant show with foot-tapping music, colourful costumes and a gripping plot. Show happening at the Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. at 8 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 25

Event: Parampara
Details: Toronto Tabla Ensemble is presenting a concert, Parampara at the Harbourfront Theatre Centre, 235 Queens Quay, Toronto at 7 p.m. The tabla concert will feature Sare Nau, a composition in a 9 1/2 beat rhythmic cycle, Bhumika (birthplace or grounding) and other select pieces from Ritesh Das’ upcoming TTE CD, Bhumika.
Contact: Here

Events: Swayamvar 2017
Details: Desi events is hosting a singles event for South Asians between the ages of 26 to 47 at the Novotel Toronto, 3670 Hurontario St. Mississauga at 1 p.m. There’s a similar Swayamvar happening Dec. 23 as well.
Contact: Here

Stuck in traffic? Sadhguru shares his insights during his visit to Toronto

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Meeting the golf-loving, motorcycle- riding mystic whose advise for life’s dilemmas did not involve hour long rituals or investments into his Isha Foundation, but just a slight shift in perception, was refreshing

Here are some of my favourite nuggets of wisdom from the evening.

When asked about the stressors of daily life such as demanding bosses and horrific traffic. Jaggi Vasudev (Sadhguru) retorted.

“Did you not spend hours deciding what kind of dream car you would like to buy? Now, when you’re getting a chance to spend more time inside your “dream car’ you’re complaining? Why?”

“You say you’re stressed at work, but if you were fired from that job, will it end your stress?”

Point taken.

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sadhguru-photo2Yoga in the studio

On this recent day, the 60-year-old Yogi was dressed in a white dhoti, long black kurta, a coiled turban and a multi-coloured shawl that effortlessly fell over his shoulders. He talked about yoga as a way of life

“One can be completely intoxicated by life without drugs. You can shift from wine to divine by attuning your self to becoming “one” with everything around you.

Unfortunately, the studio yoga practiced here in the west has turned yoga into a physical routine of twisting one’s body into ridiculous proportions. The physical part of yoga is minuscule. Yoga is an art of transforming your inner self so that it’s in tune with the rest of the universe.”

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God is in the details

Years ago, when Sadhguru was a mere mortal and not the “conscious being,” he’s now, he became intrigued when some folks openly boasted about how God talked to them one-on-one.

So, Jaggi Vasudev hung outside temples, mosques and churches observing people exit places of worship.

Some devotees, he wryly observed, cursed the creator and creation when they noticed their shoes and chappals (which they had diligently removed outside the temple) missing. Others gossiped. Almost no one it appeared was connected to the divine. This led him to conclude:

“People coming out of restaurants have more joyful expressions on their faces than those coming out of the temples,” he said. “I call this dosa vs. divine.”

P.S: A sumptuous, crispy dosa (an Indian crepe made with fermented rice and often stuffed with potatoes) in my opinion definitely can come close to nirvana.

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Sadhguru1That cursed technology

So, in his youth and perhaps later, Jaggi Vasudev had this habit of riding away on his trusty motorcycle for months on end. He rode to Chamundi Hills and jungles around Mysore but once every few days, he would stop by roadside telephone booths (manned by a human) to make dozens of calls to friends and family. He recalled how he would spend hours inside that stuffy booth rotary-dialing his contacts.

Today, he observed, his phone has the ability to connect him to millions people.

“Technology has no characteristic of its own,” Sadhguru said. “If you use it to abuse each other, it’s bad, but if it can help me reach millions of people, is it bad? It’s not technology, but humans that are a problem…”

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Traveling alone

“Someone who’s a seeker will always want to be alone, whereas a believer spouting bullshit needs the support of hundred of others. As long as you understand, ‘you know nothing’ but are open to learning, you’ll be okay.”

Hey there Toronto! Are you ready for 2017 Diwali?

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Apologies! October’s events calendar, like the arrival of organizers of some desi events in the GTA, is a tad bit late. Well, better late…

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Saturday/Sunday, Oct. 13-14

Event: Inner Engineering with Sadhguru
Details: Mystic, poet and spiritual guru Sadhguru will be offering his Inner Engineering completion program as well as life-transforming Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya at the International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd. Mississauga. For hours, registration details and more, visit the website (given below).
Contact: Here

Event: Diwali in Bollywood Ishtyle
Details: Boundless Dreamz is hosting a Diwali event at the Chandni Convention Centre, from 7:30 p.m. until 1 a.m.
Contact: Here

Friday/Saturday, Oct. 21-22

Event: 2017 Festival of Lights at BCC
Details: RBC will be bringing its annual Diwali mela at the Bramalea City Centre, 25 Peel Centre Dr., with music, interactive features, dance performances and more.
Contact: Here 

Event: AR Rahman Live
Details: One of Bollywood’s most favourite composers will be at the Powerade Centre, 7575 Kennedy Rd. S. on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. for a live Tamil concert. Rahman will perform a Hindi concert, Friday, Oct. 20 at the same venue.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Oct. 29

Event: Bhangra in the 6ix
Details: Dubbed as “Toronto’s biggest bhangra competition” the Bhangra in the 6ix, a fun-filled contest, is happening at the Living Arts Centre, 4141 Living Arts Dr. Mississauga at 2 p.m. If you can’t make it, the event will be broadcast live by Shaan Punjab Dee.
Contact: Here