Canada Council Walter Carsen Prize recognizes Canadian dance icon Menaka Thakkar
Photo: David Hou
August 31, 2012
The internationally renowned dancer, choreographer and institution builder Menaka Thakkar is the 2012 winner of the Canada Council Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts. She has been bringing classical Indian dance to Canadians for 40 years and has trained several generations of professional dancers who now enjoy thriving careers of their own.
“Menaka Thakkar is a major figure in the Canadian dance landscape,” said Robert Sirman, Canada Council for the Arts Director and CEO. “She has trained with some of the best in India and, for years, has made their teachings accessible to the mainstream in Canada. Her work has truly enriched our collective culture.”
The Walter Carsen Prize, administered and presented by the Canada Council for the Arts, recognizes the highest level of artistic excellence and distinguished career achievement by Canadian artists who have spent the major part of their career in Canada in dance, theatre or music. The award, valued this year at $ 30,000, was created through a generous donation of $1.1 million to the Canada Council by Toronto businessman and philanthropist Walter Carsen, O.C. The prize is normally awarded annually on a four year cycle: dance, theatre, dance, music.
The peer assessment committee consisted of Lynda Gaudreau (Montreal), Jay Hirabayashi (Vancouver), and Joysanne Sidimus (Port Hope, Ontario). They noted that “Menaka Thakkar is truly deserving of this prize. She has had a remarkable career as an expert proponent of Indian classical dance forms. She has also had tremendous impact as a performer, a choreographer, a collaborator with other dance forms and as the founder of a world renowned dance school and company. ”
Menaka Thakkar is the artistic director and the principal choreographer and performer of the Menaka Thakkar Dance Company, which she founded in 1978. The large ensemble company tours widely in Canada, the United States, Europe, Japan, India and Southeast Asia. In 1972, she founded Nrtyakala – The Canadian Academy of Indian Dance, Canada’s first full-scale Indian dance school.
Her choreographies range from variations on traditional or classical Indian dance forms to contemporary works that combine elements of Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kalariapayattu, Western modern dance and ballet. She has collaborated with many contemporary Western and culturally diverse choreographers over decades, creating fusion works never seen before.
Menaka Thakkar has been honoured many times by her peers and her community. She received an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from York University, the City of Toronto Face the Arts Award, and most recently she was a finalist for the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts (2011). She has taken Indian dance to various venues in Canada. She has also worked with school boards in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa. She currently teaches Indian dance in intensive periodic sessions at Canada’s National Ballet School.

The award will be presented on November 20, 2012 before the premiere of Menaka Thakkar’s new production ‘In search of the other Ganesh’ at Flato Markham Theatre, Markham, 8pm.