Sampad, a South Asian arts development organization, had started an initiative called Dance Intense, a two-week choreo-residency. Launched in Birmingham, it invited master teachers from India, plus eminent UK-based choreographers to work with an international group of emergent artists from India, Australia, Singapore. Sampradaya sent three dancers to participate. It was such a rich experience – they worked in technique, in alternative movement forms – they worked with choreographers like Shobana Jeyasingh. The next year it was held in Kolkata, India. Attending both the Birmingham and Kolkata choreo-residencies as an observer, I was deeply aware of the need for such a project in Canada. I discussed the potential for the next Dance Intense in Toronto with Piali Ray. We received support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Metcalf Foundation for a three-year Dance Intense series and were fortunate to secure the partnership of York University's Dance Program.
CA: This was 2009?
LP: Yes, 2009, 2010, 2011. An absolute success because it was such an important launch pad for many young dancers who attended and became part of an international network of young practitioners. It really validated Sampradaya's mandate of advancing South Asian dance development in Canada. Again, in partnership with Sampad, we launched a two-year project, Leaders of Tomorrow, a cultural leadership program that had already met with much success in England. We put out a call and chose six artists who needed help to take their careers and emergent organizations to the next level. The group included filmmakers, theatre and visual artists, dancers and arts administrators working in South Asian arts. They had the opportunity to work with industry leaders, some corporate, some in the arts, from business and legal backgrounds, successful filmmakers, academics. We also had a Dragon's Den-model pitching of their ideas to these mentors.
The opportunity to move into our original space happened in 2006 with a grant from Canadian Heritage's Cultural Spaces program. Both the Company and Academy functioned in the 3500-square-foot leased space for six years and quickly outgrew it. Many new partnerships were forged with theatre companies – notably Theatre Direct – on our Beneath the Banyan Tree production. This was very successful – the rights were bought by Theatre Direct who toured it to ninety schools and venues in Canada, then remounted it in England on an English young audience group for touring. I went to England and remounted the choreography on a group of UK-based dancers and actors. I'd love to do more work for young audiences. I just need more time …
CA: You do!
LP: Fortunately, at that time, the Ontario Trillium Foundation put out a call for their Capital Community Project grants, for expansion and refurbishment of infrastructure. We got support from them as well from the Cultural Spaces Program. We now have a 6800-square-foot facility with four studios. The largest studio also functions as a performance theatre with a professional sound system and lighting, a large motorized projection screen and projector and retractable, raked seating for 100 persons. We have three offices, a meeting room, a dressing room, and additional space for sets, props, costumes and archival material.
That was quite a steep learning curve! We had to create a capital campaign, developing a whole new relationship with donors. We had a “name your seat” campaign in the theatre – we currently have twenty-two seats named at $500 each. We of course hope for the day when our theatre will be named by a generous patron. Building capacity for the organization is an ongoing challenge; I am very fortunate to have an excellent staff. I have six dedicated dancers who work on contract. The Academy has a part-time administrator and five part-time teachers.
Another important milestone was the commissioning of Taj by the 2011 Luminato Festival, which played to four sold-out shows at the Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront Centre. It was a multi-disciplinary project created on a scale unprecedented for our company. That was a new opportunity for Sampradaya Dance Creations to take on the producer role. It was an ambitious work and a daring undertaking. I was fortunate to bring on a dream team of collaborators. We commissioned a new playscript by Canada's Governor General Award-winning John Murrell; Tom Diamond was the director; Phillip Silver created the set and lighting design; Rashmi Varma was costume designer and Jacques Collin designed the visual projections. I did not choreograph as the theme of the work, set in seventeenth-century Mughal India, required dance in kathak style; so I invited India's celebrated eighty-two-year-old choreographer Kumudini Lakhia. In October of 2013, we set out on a seven-city Canadian tour of Taj.
I am currently working on my Chalmers Senior Arts Fellowship – looking at the performance traditions of the Ramayana across Southeast Asia. It is an epic story – very long, very detailed, like the Iliad; it originated in India and travelled to many countries in Southeast Asia. The Ramayana had undergone significant transformative changes in all these countries, incorporating the local folk legends and performance traditions, influenced as well by other religions such as Islam and Buddhism. I am looking at current performance practices and at where experimentation has resulted in new directions in the treatment of this epic narrative. I spent three weeks in Indonesia last year and I'll spend the next three months in India, continuing research throughout 2014.
We're very fortunate that Heritage Canada supports us through their Canada Arts Training Fund, as well as Ontario Arts Council. We are affiliated with ISTD [Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing] in England, and are the only bharatanatyam academy in North America with this affiliation. This has streamlined our curriculum, made it more comprehensive and progressive. Students study theory, music related to the repertoire and learn to articulate and notate complex rhythms in their repertoire.
And, I am thinking about succession plans. Looking back, I think I've made an important place for Indian dance in Canada. My public funders, donors, my audience, my students, my teachers, my board members have all believed in and supported this vision. It's an investment that needs to have a life beyond me.
CA: Legacy is an important and timely issue in Canadian dance.
LP: I do believe in a new vision, fresh energy, a new generation for this organization; I am identifying and mentoring individuals. I will continue to be affiliated, associated, in more of a mentorship than active role. For sure, we have a role to play in nurturing the new leaders of tomorrow.
I will tell you about SADAC – South Asian Dance Alliance of Canada. That came out of my research into England, looking at how prominent South Asian dance was there and the level of its public profile. Much of South Asian dance in Canada is, except for some of the well-known artists, literally under the radar. It is important that we try to find a way of networking, creating an alliance to build a collective voice. SADAC was formed about four years ago, with an advisory committee from across the country. Nova Bhattacharya is now working with me closely and we received a grant from Arts Service Organizations at OAC to build a website and a needs-assessment study.
We contracted Noora Sagarwala to conduct the needs-assessment study, involving an online survey and several interviews. The report highlights the breadth and scope of Indian dance across Canada, with important recommendations for next steps.
Resource sharing and performance opportunities are scarce. Most important is building prospects for the younger generations. We have a regular Horizon series in which we present emerging artists, where two artists share an evening. So far, we have presented six young dancers.
CA: Here at Sampradaya?
LP: Yes – here in our theatre. I don't want the new generation to feel that it's an established order for seniors, and there's no room for them. I think seniors have the responsibility of creating opportunities for younger artists.
I deeply believe in the value of the arts in our lives. They're not important just in terms of performance, or a career, they are important tools that we can all draw upon when life turns things upside down. We can discover ourselves through our art. We can find solace in it.
CA: Thank you so much, Lata.
To learn more about Lata Pada visit: http://www.sampradaya.ca/