Two dancers’ sur­pris­ing jour­neys

DANCE

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ARNO KAMOLIKA

From afar, In­dian clas­si­cal 2

dance is eas­ily per­ceived as a ho­mo­ge­neous art form marked by dra­matic fa­cial ex­pres­sions, ar­tic­u­lated hand ges­tures, and sparkling cos­tumes. In this con­text, it might not be at all sur­pris­ing to hear a story about a Ben­gali girl who fell in love with bharata natyam.

But in Bangladesh, a largely Mus­lim coun­try, that dance was a rare pur­suit when Arno Kamolika was young. Af­ter all, the sto­ry­telling form has its roots in to­tally dif­fer­ent cul­tures—bud­dhist and Hindu rit­ual and mythol­ogy. Other clas­si­cal styles like odissi and ma­nipuri were much more pop­u­lar in Bangladesh, and Kamolika stud­ied those in a fine-arts school as a girl. How­ever, when she was about 16, a bharata natyam guru came to lead a two-month work­shop, and Kamolika says she was hooked for life.

“It was the sto­ry­telling of it,” she says with pas­sion over the phone to the Straight from her home here. “And that was when I de­cided I won’t do any other dance. What trig­gered me about bharata natyam was I could see the artists who were get­ting so emo­tion­ally in­volved with their char­ac­ter— and I al­ways have been a great fan of movies and the­atre. I thought, ‘This dance lets me be­come a dancer and at the same time a char­ac­ter as well.’”

Flash for­ward to Van­cou­ver, the last place Kamolika ex­pected to pur­sue her art form when she ar­rived here from Bangladesh in 2010 to con­tinue her ar­chi­tec­ture stud­ies. But soon she found Man­dala Arts’ bharata natyam mas­ter Jai Govinda here, and delved even fur­ther into the clas­si­cal dance, tour­ing to fes­ti­vals ev­ery­where from In­dia to Ger­many and the U.S.

This fall, watch for her to take her spe­cialty to wider au­di­ences, push­ing bharata natyam into new ter­ri­tory with her most am­bi­tious project to date—one that ties her beloved In­dian dance to the her­itage of her home­land.

Shyama—which de­buts at Di­wali in Van­cou­ver on Oc­to­ber 27 at the York The­atre, in a co­p­re­sen­ta­tion with the Van­cou­ver Tagore So­ci­ety and the Man­dala Arts & Cul­ture So­ci­ety—tells Ben­gali writer Rabindranath Tagore’s epic dance drama through bharata natyam dance. The No­bel lau­re­ate’s 1939 work fol­lows a cour­te­san who saves the hero from the scaf­fold and runs away with him. Shyama is the fruition of al­most three years of work, fea­tur­ing di­rec­tion by Ro­hit Chokhani, orig­i­nal chore­og­ra­phy by Jai Govinda, a score by Ben­gali-canadian com­poser Shankhanaad Mal­lick, and four other bharata natyam dancers.

“I feel so close to both these things,” she says of the dance and Tagore’s poetry, which her par­ents of­ten read while she was grow­ing up. “I was a bit ner­vous when I started. But bharata natyam is not an an­cient form; it has its roots in an­cient text and tem­ples, but it is as con­tem­po­rary as any other dance,” she adds, liken­ing the style to bal­let.

Kamolika hopes to ex­pose new au­di­ences to the dance’s beauty and tech­nique, as well as to Ben­gali lit­er­a­ture and mu­sic. “It’s been such a jour­ney to make this pro­duc­tion. It’s so Canadian,” she says, re­fer­ring to the mix of cul­tures the show brings to­gether, in­clud­ing its French-canadian chore­og­ra­pher, dancers from di­verse parts of In­dia, and a direc­tor from Mum­bai. “So bharata natyam is con­nect­ing all of us. It makes me very happy.”

> JANET SMITH STEPHANIE CYR

Stéphanie Cyr knows there 2

re­ally is no place like home— some­thing it took the dancer sev­eral years of search­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate. Now that she’s back in Van­cou­ver, how­ever, things have never been bet­ter. The mag­netic per­former with the strik­ing dark, cropped hair and ex­pres­sive, mus­cu­lar style is set to per­form in Ac­tion at a Dis­tance’s Never Still at the Fire­hall Arts Cen­tre from Septem­ber 26 to 29, and in projects with chore­og­ra­phers from Les­ley Telford to Wen Wei Wang soon af­ter.

But this wasn’t where her pro­fes­sional ca­reer started. Right out of grad­u­a­tion from Arts Um­brella’s train­ing pro­gram in 2013, Cyr landed a dream job. Ital­ian chore­og­ra­pher Wal­ter Mat­teini had come to the school to work with its stu­dents, and he hand­picked her to come back to his and Ina Broeckx’s buzzed­about im­per­fect Dancers Com­pany in his­toric Pisa.

It was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence: a chance to tour through Italy, Ger­many, and South Amer­ica while tak­ing on phys­i­cally chal­leng­ing, cut­ting-edge dance. But it was also a se­vere cul­ture shock to the young Cyr, who hails from small Shawville, out­side of Ot­tawa, and who had never trav­elled to Europe be­fore.

“At that age, you don’t know much about your­self,” ad­mits the artist, sit­ting in a Chi­na­town café be­fore head­ing to re­hearsals with Ac­tion at a Dis­tance’s Vanessa Good­man. “And it’s a huge learn­ing curve to move away from home and be on your own with new room­mates and lan­guage bar­ri­ers and cul­tural dif­fer­ences. You pick your­self up and put your­self in an­other petri dish.”

Af­ter a year and a half, “I just knew Italy wasn’t my home,” she says, paus­ing thought­fully. “I was also ques­tion­ing whether to keep danc­ing or not.”

Cyr packed up and headed back to On­tario to live with her par­ents—the ones who had so de­vot­edly driven her to dance lessons in Ot­tawa five nights a week. She spent the time rest­ing, re­flect­ing, and danc­ing back at the cap­i­tal’s School of Dance. “I needed to fig­ure out what kind of work I should be do­ing,” she ex­plains.

It worked. Af­ter her break, Cyr en­joyed a short stint in Mon­treal, then made the trek back to Van­cou­ver, a place that had wel­comed her be­fore. “I knew I had a com­mu­nity here, even though it’s smaller,” she says, adding she wanted to be part of a scene that was on the up­swing. “There’s def­i­nitely some kind of wave hap­pen­ing—i re­mem­ber be­ing in Mon­treal and think­ing, ‘I need to be there for it.’ But I was also ul­ti­mately at­tracted to the peo­ple here. There’s a work ethic in Van­cou­ver, for sure.”

Those peo­ple have in­cluded Bal­let BC alumna Rachel Meyer, who cast Cyr as a moth­like crea­ture in her mid­night show­ings of the hyp­notic Trans­verse Ori­en­ta­tion this sum­mer; and Bal­let BC alum­nus Christoph von Riede­mann, with whom Cyr per­formed an out­door Dance Deck work in Au­gust. Her work this fall will be di­verse: Ac­tion at a Dis­tance finds her per­form­ing in and around gi­ant strips of Tyvek that act as pro­jec­tion sur­faces for Loscil’s at­mo­spheric au­dio-vi­su­als in Good­man’s wa­ter-themed Never Still. A re­work­ing of Telford’s duet My tongue, your ear sets an ironic poem about lovers part­ing against com­poser Nico Muhly’s an­gu­lar vi­ola.

Ex­pect to see Cyr fiercely com­mit to each work—both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, in per­for­mances where she con­nects openly with her au­di­ence.

“I like to feel some­thing about the project that’s slightly out of reach, or that in­cludes some­thing I haven’t at­tempted be­fore,” says Cyr, who’s find­ing what she needs here. “I def­i­nitely want to cre­ate a space where the per­for­mance as­pect and the au­di­ence can meet in the mid­dle…where I’m not forc­ing them to feel or see the work in one way.”

> JANET SMITH

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