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Lata Pada - Choreographer

May 2001

Internationally acclaimed for her excellence in Bharata Natyam, Lata Pada is recognized as a leading dance artist whose lifelong involvement with dance covers an impressive spectrum of performance, choreography, pedagogy and scholarship. Originally from Bangalore, India, Lata Pada has made Canada her home for thirty-six years. Trained under the renowned Kalaimamani Guru Kalyanasundaram and Padmabhushan Kalanidhi Narayanan, Lata's solo dance recitals have revealed a distinctive style, described as "classicism with an individual stamp of creativity."

Over her remarkable dance career, Lata Pada has performed more than six hundred concerts, including a command performance for the President of India in 1992 and two extensive solo performance tours of North America including appearances at venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of the Arts (New York), The World Bank (Washington). She has also performed at such prestigious international festivals as the International Arts Festival of China (1989), Ibero Americano Theatre Festival (Colombia - 1991), WOMAD (Toronto -1991), Festival of India (Indonesia -1991), Rhythms of India (Toronto -1993), Centro Nacional de Las Artes (Mexico -1995), Kalanidhi Dance Festival (Toronto -1996) and the Canada Dance Festival (Ottawa - 1998).

Lata Pada's choreography reflects the range of her creativity within traditional and non-traditional spheres of artistic expression, including inter-cultural dance collaborations with artists of diverse dance genres. Recent works include Dougla with the Trinidadian dancer/choreographer Ronald Taylor, Charla with Flamenco dancer/choreographer Carmen Romero and choreography for Nightwood Theatre's 1996 production of Mango Chutney and the 1997 production of Nagamandala. Lata Pada was invited to premiere Timescape in prestigious dance festivals in Bangalore and Chennai, India in January 1998. Her recent full length dance theatre multi-media work, Revealed By Fire premiered in Toronto's Harbourfront 2001 World Moves Dance Series. Lata Pada is Founder of the Mississauga based Sampradaya Dance Academy and Artistic Director of Sampradaya Dance Creations. Her many recent honours include the 1995 Mississauga Arts Award for Dance, the 2000 New Pioneers Arts Award, the Bharathi Kala Manram Performing Arts Award and the Distinguished Artist Award by Kannada Sangha. She holds a M.F.A. in Dance from York University, serves on the Arts and Entertainment Committee of the Mississauga Living Arts Centre, Arts & Culture Committee of the 2008 Toronto Olympic Bid, and is a founding member of the South Asian Advisory Committee at the Royal Ontario Museum.

"Revealed by Fire" is your autobiography using dance, multi - media, music, narration and theater. The response was so overwhelming, some people had to be turned away. Is this the first time such a thing has happened to a performance of South Asian dance?
It is the first time that I have experienced such an overwhelming response to the premiere of a new production, three sold out nights with standing ovations. A new milestone for South Asian dance in Canada! In today's competition for media coverage that all artists face, for their work to be profiled or critiqued, REVEALED BY FIRE attracted unprecedented attention from the media. I had no less than eight articles, including previews, interviews and reviews in the major national newspapers and three radio interviews. This was directly responsible for the incredible response we had in those wishing to attend the show. Yes, we regretted the number of people that had to be turned away; certainly we could have sold out another night.

Was "Revealed by Fire" your very first attempt at a completely contemporary style of working including choreography and subject?
In fact, I have been creating contemporary works for several years and several of them including TIMESCAPE, COSMOS, CROSSWINDS and YATRA have been recognized for extending the boundaries of Bharatanatyam in syntax and choreographic approach. Certainly, REVEALED BY FIRE was a new direction for me as a choreographer; the production was completely autobiographical and multi-media. Setting a personal narrative within a dance-theatre context was an exciting extension of my choreographic vision.

How difficult was it to translate your personal life's tragedy and loss into a piece of art?
The creation of REVEALED BY FIRE has been a long journey; it has taken me three years to arrive at a point where I had the courage to tell my personal story in the medium of dance. The transformative nature of my personal tragedy has been the subject of several documentaries (the latest one - DANCING IN THE SPIRIT, produced by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has just been awarded the prestigious Wilbur prize for best documentary) and articles in magazines and newspapers, but it was another matter altogether to transform this work into a personal mythology with universal relevance. On a personal level, I had to agonize over whether this work could be perceived as self-indulgent; on an artistic level, I was challenged on how to create a sensitive, aesthetic work and how to integrate the visuals into the production.

Your academy is called Sampradaya meaning tradition. You come from a classical solo background. Will you step out of tradition and do more contemporary work?
When I established my dance academy and company, my choice of the title SAMPRADAYA was very deliberate. I have always felt that contemporary dance is but part of a continuum of centuries of an evolving tradition. I do not see the dichotomy in classical and contemporary; the polarity does not exist in my artistic vision. Tradition does not imply stasis, it is dynamic and vibrant, responsive to changing trends and realities of the society within which it exists. I honour and celebrate the classicism of Bharatanatyam, it is the touchstone that I will be inspired by in my search for new meaning in my dance.

As a senior artiste and choreographer, what is your opinion about South Asian dance in Canada?
I feel that South Asian dance is on the threshold of an unprecedented level of growth and integration into mainstream dance in Canada. It is here to stay as a very important voice of Canada's cultural diversity. For instance, our production, REVEALED BY FIRE was invited to be part of Harbourfront's World Moves, a prestigious mainstream dance series featuring the best of international and Canadian contemporary dance. Increasingly the works of South Asian artists are being seen in major dance festivals and there is a vibrant range of classical and contemporary creations in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak. South Asian dance is rapidly gaining recognition within funding agencies, nationally and regionally. There is a growing thrust towards applying the highest professional standards to our productions and working with collaborators of acclaim.

Do you have any ideas of also becoming a presenter and facilitating collaborations and workshops with visiting
international artistes?
Working with other collaborators and visiting artists is part of our Company's mandate; I believe in a variety of professional development initiatives for my dancers and myself. I always find it exciting to network and share with my peers and colleagues around the world, this exchange of ideas and artistic approaches which are vital to the growth of any dance artist. This fall, we have commissioned Anita Ratnam to create a new work HY-PHENATED (working title) for my Company and the work will premiere in a mixed program at the end of September in Toronto. In July, L. Narendra from the Arangham Dance Company has been invited to teach a two-week workshop in Bharatanatyam and Kallari and assist in developing movement material for our new young audience production TALES FROM THE BANYAN TREE.

Since the arangetram phenomena all across America is a huge factor, what are some of the biggest stumbling blocks to introducing contemporary dance to the South Asian community in Canada?
As artist in a contemporary and culturally diverse Canadian society, we are challenged to make our work relevant to multi-generational and multi-ethnic audiences. Our first generation South Asian audience with a preference for classical compositions are slow to accept change and appreciate contemporary work. On the other hand, second generation South Asians have eclectic tastes in the performing arts, they want to see work that is part of their reality as Canadians, then again we have a mainstream non South Asian audience that has a deep interest in world dance and music. Finding the ideal programming balance within my artistic objectives is one of the crucial challenges.

Do you feel the need to return to India like the other NRI dancers and perform here? Do you find improvement or degeneration in quality of performances and selection of performers during the December season when you are a regular visitor to Chennai?
Yes, of course, as soon as the leaves turn a burnished gold in our glorious autumn season here, my thoughts gravitate to India and in particular to Chennai and Bangalore where I look forward to the bonanza of performances, festivals and conferences. I come back to India to be inspired and artistically rejuvenated and start having withdrawal symptoms if I miss one 'season'. I haven't performed in India for a few years now, I suppose we have such active and hectic creating and performing schedules here in Canada, that it is a refreshing change to come back to India and become a spectator. Unless one has contacts in India, the complex logistics of organizing the details of a performance in India are in themselves a deterrent. I have noticed that dancers/choreographers are incorporating sophisticated production values in their performances; there is more attention to aesthetics of lighting, costume and stage design. I have seen a few interesting contemporary works, I only wish that there wasn't such an unmanageable proliferation of dance performances in such a short time period, the burnout for a viewer happens far too quickly!

What are some of the other projects you are looking forward to this year?
This year, I will be working on a young audience work titled TALES FROM THE BANYAN TREE. Inspired by fables from the Panchatantra and native Canadian folklore, this work will be workshopped in schools as an Arts in The Schools initiative. Then later in the year, we will premiere HY-PHENATED (created by Anita Ratnam) as part of our season in September. We have been invited to perform at the Youth Showcase at Toronto's 2008 Olympic Bid in May.

What were some of the problems / discoveries you made during your collaboration with Cylla von Tiedemann in
"Revealed by Fire"?
The rewards of collaborating with Cylla on this work have far outweighed the challenges that we faced in the creation of this work. Partnering on a work that uses two distinct artistic disciplines requires a deeper level of understanding of one's own craft. Photography is 'in the moment' whereas movement continues to evolve. Cylla has a western approach to her work and my sensibility is Indian. But the process of challenging, confronting and provoking each other was grounded in a common quest - we were both committed to the message of the work. For us, the greatest challenge was in focusing on the 'core or soul' of the work, it was when I realized that the universal would emerge from the personal story, that I knew that REVEALED BY FIRE was the story of one woman and therefore of all women.

16 years after the Kanishka tragedy where you lost your husband and daughters, you have found love and peace again. Congratulations on your recent marriage. How important has your husband been in your recent choices?
Thank you for your good wishes. It was our common passion for the arts that drew me to Hari Venkatacharya, whom I married in September of 2000. Even though he is not an artist (Hari is President of a software encryption company) he understands the challenges of an artist's life and the nurturing a creative person needs. He is my sounding board with whom my ideas and doubts are shared.

Has the success of "Revealed by Fire" transformed you in any way as a woman and as an artiste?
The creative journey of working on REVEALED BY FIRE has in itself been another test of fire. To create a work of art out of an autobiographical narrative poses all sorts of self doubts- "will it be seen as self -indulgent?", "will I have the emotional strength to dance it?", "how to set the personal story within the framework of a theatrical work"? Ultimately, I had to follow my instinct because I needed to resolve several issues of womanhood and identity. This work was not about the telling of a tragic story, it was more importantly about the transformation and the catharsis that I underwent in searching for my identity as woman. Emerging from the artistic test has given me a new sense of self, it has also convinced me of the importance of creating works that come from a deeply personal source, it is what connects and transforms the audience with one's work in the most intimate way. What has become the most important outcome is the validation of REVEALED by total strangers expressing through letters, messages and emails their own personal transformation viewing the work. .

Lata Pada
"Sampradaya Dance Academy"
1946 Lapad Court, Mississauga
Ontario, Canada L5L5R1
Ph: (905) - 608-2475
Fax: (905) - 608-2476

( As told to ARR)

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