alankar choreography by nova bhattacharya, natasha bakht, menaka thakkar, peggy baker and roger sinha presented by DanceWorks at the Du Maurier Theatre (231 Queen's Quay West), Thursday to Saturday (December 12-14) at 8 pm. $22, stu/srs $15. 416-973-4000.
when people ask nova bhatta-charya what's so different about her new Indian dance show, she has a pat answer. "There are no saris." It sounds glib, but Bhattacharya's got a valid point. The veteran dancer/choreographer's latest show draws on her training in classical Indian dance, particularly the dramatic form of Bharatanatyam, but there's a contemporary feel to it.
Never mind the traditional garb. In one work, she's even wearing Blundstones. "Bharatanatyam in boots," she laughs. "I'm pretty sure that's breaking new ground."
Alankar, the mixed-program lineup she's sharing with dancer/choreographer Natasha Bakht, promises lots of similarly funky juxtapositions. Just don't use the word fusion around her.
"I hate words like blending, fusion, cross-cultural and trans-cultural," she says over coffee. "They don't make a lot of sense. It's not like I sat down and decided to make some cocktail consisting of a little bit of Bharatanatyam and a little bit of modern dance.
"I prefer talking in terms of evolution. My training, and Natasha's, was done here in Canada. What we're doing is Canadian dance."
Bhattacharya knows audiences have certain preconceived ideas about Indian dance.
"Some people expect the kind of Bollywood movie dances they see on CfmT," she says. "Others think Indian dance is all mime because it's storytelling. And others use the word "traditional' to describe it, as if it's some archaic museum piece.
"But like ballet, Bharatanatyam is a classical art form that lives and breathes and evolves. It can absolutely be contemporary."
Alankar -- the title means "elaboration" -- consists of five pieces, including new commissions from Peggy Baker and Menaka Thakkar.
Thakkar's duet marks a symbolic homecoming for the two dancers, who began their training with the legendary Indian dancer, choreographer and teacher more than two decades ago.
"When we initially met with Menaka to discuss the piece, the first thing she said was, "Now girls... ,' and I swear to god it was like we were eight and 11 years old again," she giggles.
"But what we established was that we were all coming to this show out of mutual respect. We were two of her first students and company members. That fact that we've come back and have all this new language in our bodies was exciting for her."
As for Baker's commission, Bhattacharya says she's always admired Baker's ability to avoid putting stereotypes of women onstage.
"I've tried in my own work to avoid stereotypes of South Asian women onstage," she says. "Peggy's also into lines and shapes, so I thought it'd be interesting to see her work with the lines and shapes of Bharatanatyam. And lately she's been exploring narrative, so I thought she'd push the vocabulary further by using the specific facial expressions and hand gestures.
"But," she cautions, "none of it is straight-ahead Bharatanatyam. It's all off-centre. There's nothing specifically from any other dance discipline, either. Peggy's made a piece that works for my body, and for what I can do."
The fact that Bhattacharya and Bakht can mount a full-scale evening like Alankar shows how far the acceptance of Indian dance has come. Two years ago, Bhattacharya sold out a three-night run, justifying her decision to devote herself to dance full- time in 1999.
"In the 80s, it didn't seem feasible to have a career as a dancer. Funding bodies looked at Indian dance differently," she says. Now audiences are vast and varied. And they don't have to be familiar with the underlying Indian myths to appreciate the dance.
"You should be able to look at a piece and relate to the feelings," she says. "Here's a work about a woman spurned by her lover. You don't have to get every gesture. There's a mood. That's enough. It's the same with ballet. I didn't grow up knowing the story of Giselle, but if it's well performed, I'll feel it."email@example.com preview