Lastyear, Lata Pada received the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian award, ‘For her contributions to the development of South Asian dance as a choreographer, teacher, dancer and artistic director as well as for her commitment and support of the Indian community in Canada’. Pada comes of distinguished artistic pedigree: she was trained in Bharat Natyam by two notables, the Mumbai-based Guru Kalyan Sundaram and the Chennai-based Guru Kalanidhi Narayan. They imbued in her “the most authentic and most beautiful legacies of the tradition of Bharat Natyam,” says Pada, who now runs the Sampradaya Dance Academy out of Toronto. Pada is prompted to teach, she says, by her fervent desire “to create an awareness of the beauty, richness and the depth of Indian dance as art forms and not just some cultural artifacts. “What I realized from the beginning is that we have to break down a lot of stereotypes, break down a lot of myths that existed about Indian dance — that it is ‘so exotic, so sensuous’,” says Pada, who has been living, dancing and teaching in Canada for 40 years now. “And so my desire was to really create an awareness of the beauty, richness and the depth of the Indian dance forms – Bharat Natyam, Odissi and Kathak – that now stand shoulder to shoulder with the best dance companies in Canada.
” She has choreographed dozens of dance pieces, and her personal favorite, her “seminal moment as an artist, as a creator of new choreography, was my production ‘Revealed by Fire’, which was an autobiographical work.” The piece dealt with her own personal journey through loss and grief, and the subsequent transformation through dance. And its power stems from a life lived in the shadow of loss and grief: Pada lost her husband and two daughters in the June 23, 1985 terrorist bombing of the Air India Boeing Kanishka. The loss turned her into an activist on public policy issues, appearing constantly on TV and in the columns of newspapers with a persistence that was partly instrumental in pushing the Canadian government into instituting a public inquiry into the tragedy, chaired by Justice John Major. Another highlight in her artistic career, she says, is the twoweek ‘DanceIntense Toronto 2009’ she organized at York University in Toronto, with participation of 17 young dancers from several countries.
The intention, she says, was “for dancers on the threshold of a professional career to have an opportunity to further their training with Canadian and international master teachers and choreographers, to experience new forms such as butoh, contemporary Aboriginal dance, flamenco and contact improvisation, to attend seminars on allied subjects”, all of which is central to the dancer’s development. The successful show that her academy co-sponsored saw the active participation of acclaimed teachers, choreographers and artists — and left her committed to further editions over the next three years. Over the years, she has been much sought after on the global stage. She has performed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for then Indian President R Venkataraman, toured with her troupe to the dance theatres of Indonesia, Malaysia, Colombia, Mexico, China, Singapore, Ireland, the United States... Another of Pada’s innovative productions, called ‘Cricket’, was conceived, because as a choreographer she saw this as a bridge between dance and this popular sport. “If you watch the movement of a bowler or you see the physical movement of a batsman and you watch it in slow motion then you see how akin cricket is to dance.” That explains why her choreography on cricket was so popular that her dance company toured December last year in India, and then she took her group to England “where it was so highly appreciated.”
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