AKSHONGAY choreography by Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Côté. Presented by Nova Dance and DanceWorks at the Enwave (235 Queens Quay West). Opens tonight (Thursday, April 11) and runs to April 13, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm. $19.50-$34. 416-973-4000, harbourfrontcentre.com, danceworks.ca
Dancers are a close-knit bunch, working in close physical proximity onstage and in the studio. Black Swan scenarios aside, they tend to be friends rather than enemies.
But some personal connections blossom with more strength than others. That's the case with Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Côté, two of Toronto's finest indie dancer/choreographers. They first met after watching each other dance.
"I was mesmerized," says Laberge-Côté, and Bhattatcharya was equally enchanted.
"Our friendship really began in the bar after the show," she says. "It's where all good collaborations begin."
Since that 2003 encounter, the pair have made three short dances together, two of them for the popular Dusk Dances series. Now the besties are set to unveil Akshongay (a Bengali word that means "together"), their first full-length co-choreographed work.
The piece, which has evolved over five years of movement research and sporadic work with mentor Tedd Robinson and outside eye Dan Wild, exploits the differences in their training and personal history.
"Louis is more of a modern dancer," Bhattacharya points out, "while I trained with Menaka Thakkar in Bharatanatyam." Bhattacharya's works - whether solos made for herself or dances for others - are generally infused with the rhythms, physicality and mythical imagery of that classical Indian dance culture.
Laberge-Côté trained in Graham technique at L'Ecole de Danse du Québec and the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. He danced with TDT for eight years and is much in demand by choreographers around the world.
Akshongay is not so much a fusion as a carefully calibrated alliance of two artists at the top of their respective games.
At a recent sneak preview, part of the Canadian Opera Company's lunchtime Free Concert Series at the Four Seasons Centre, the pair revealed brief excerpts of Akshongay's duets and dramatic solo vignettes. In one, Bhattacharya intones text from Hindu myths about Shiva and Kali and Shiva and Durga. In another, Laberge-Côté strikes warrior poses, his enormous blue eyes unnervingly wide and wild.
Pretty intense stuff.
"The work is not humorous in the way our other pieces have been," says Bhattacharya. "We kind of assumed that it was likely to erupt, given our deep connection on the level of dark, twisted humour. But we made a conscious decision to allow comedy to happen naturally, not impose it. In this instance it didn't lead us to that particular place."
Where it led them instead might be an even more honest manifestation of the relationship.
"Because our friendship is so strong," says Bhattacharya, "it allows us to be absolutely uncompromising about the art in the studio. Often the friendship is the most important thing you're trying to protect."
"Here," adds Laberge-Côté, "[the most important thing] is the art we're making."