& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Preparing for my theatre debut has been terrifying & exciting: Lata Pada

Guest Post: Lata Pada

Globally renowned danseuse Lata Pada, the artistic director of Sampradaya Dance Creations, is making her first foray in theatre this week, when she debuts in Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like a Man. In this first person piece, Lata, who has the rare distinction of being honoured with both the Order of Canada and the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, describes the thrill of acting on stage 

When Jasmine and Nitin first asked if I would consider auditioning for the role of Rathna in Sawitri Theatre’s DANCE LIKE A MAN, I was impulsive and readily agreed. After all, I could completely relate to the role of Rathna and the ‘world of the play’ certainly resonated for me. I thought this would be a piece of cake!  But little did I know what I had committed to.

Preparing for my theatre debut in Rathna’s role in DANCE LIKE A MAN has been both terrifying and exciting!  You might ask why a seasoned dancer like me would feel this way. After all, I have been on stage for the past forty years and should have grown accustomed to quelling my nervousness, taking a deep breath and holding my own in dance performances for a range of audiences – intimate salon type to large outdoor stages with thousands of spectators.  Why should a new but similar medium of theatrical expression challenge me?  Ah, that is the crux of the matter.

Dance and theatre share many techniques and devices. In bharatanatyam, I have been trained to be a soloist, interpreting the many characters in the poetry and lyrics we portray. We are trained to understand the spirit of the character, embody the emotions and gestures that are specific to the situation or role, hold the ‘sthaayi’ or dominant mood that the poetry suggests.  Essential to our training is projecting the delicate and nuanced expressions to large audiences without caricaturizing the role. Not different from theatre one would say.

Working with Mahesh Dattani and Christina Collins has been such an uncharted journey, filled with new learning and surprises, about myself and my co-actors. For the first week, Mahesh worked with us in Chekhov's ‘archetypal sensations’ like falling, floating, balancing and internalizing and veiling  ‘intent’ such as push, pull, smash, lift, reach, penetrate, gather, throw and tear.

What a powerful way of embodying the characters we were playing! For me a dancer, whose gestures and emotions are our tools of expressions, learning to literally ‘tie my hands behind my back’ and work with the intent alone was frustrating, but had to be done.

Decades of training with my dance gurus have polished the art of improvisation and exploring the ‘sanchari’s in the composition. Knowing that I had a responsibility towards not ‘tripping up’ my co-actors with forgetting a line or phrase felt like a huge weight to carry.

But I surprised myself.  Gradually my confidence grew, I learnt to ‘lighten up’ and be in the moment.  A huge thank you to Mahesh, Christina, Anand, Sid and Navneet for your generosity and support in holding my hand through this exhilarating new journey. I've had so much fun and learnt so much. Thank you Jasmine and Nitin for believing in me; I will do my best not to let you down. 

Dance Like A Man – Three performances. On Thursday, October 16, Friday, October 17 and Saturday October 18 - 8 pm, at Meadowvale Theatre, Mississauga, 6315 Montevideo Road, Mississauga, ON, L5N 4G7

Directorial Vision – Mahesh Dattani; Co-Director – Christina Collins; Set & Lighting Design - Joe Pagnan; Music – Deepak Sant; Stage Manager – Heather Bellingham

Cast Lata Pada, Anand Rajaram, Sid Sawant, Navneet Kaur

Tickets: $50, $30 & $20. Go to

Website www.sawitri.ca

Monday, October 06, 2014

Mahesh and I

Guest Post by Jasmine Sawant

(First published in Desi News October 2014)

It was shortly after SAWITRI was born, that I met Mahesh Dattani through Where There’s A Will. As I was reading the play, I laughed so much that I nearly fell off the couch! And then, when I was done, I sat silent for a long, long while. This man had effortlessly described the father-son relationship that I had witnessed in my community; the Gujarati community. Maybe it existed in other communities as well, but there it was, out in the open. Someone had taken the time to write about the patriarchal stranglehold. Intelligently, dramatically, incisively and poignantly, someone who had perhaps, suffered as did his ‘Ajit’ in the play, had penned down the pain.  And then there was the treatment of the women. The way the character of Hasmukh Mehta treated his wife and his mistress was funny, wacky, but deep down there was a systemic manipulation and marginalization of the women of his household. It was a cleverly constructed play that resonated strongly with us on many levels.

SAWITRI Theatre Group wanted to produce the play right away. We even got Mahesh’s permission; I still have that email. But our theatre group was new. We had just started. We thought it would be good to collaborate with an established like-minded theatre company. We saw it as mutually beneficial. We knew we were bringing passion, talent, a different perspective and a new market segment to the table. But the start up is usually considered an upstart, an interloper! We needed to prove ourselves to be taken seriously, and it was the usual chicken or egg syndrome. Ten years later, when we finally produced Where There’s A Will in 2012, it was the realization of a long standing dream!

Whether one is in Mumbai or in Mississauga, there’s always a ‘mainstream’ to deal with. Its composition may differ, but there’s this ‘push out’ from ‘mainstream’. Feeling strongly about marginalization, producing Mahesh Dattani’s Seven Steps Around the Fire was next. If we felt so pushed out, then how much more difficult it would the for the LGBT community here. In India, the ‘hijras’ suffer social discrimination, social deprivation, poverty and mental torture. Their birth is seen as a curse of the Gods. Being transgendered should not mean they cease to be human without potential or human sensibility. The legal acceptance of the LGBT community in Canada has not automatically ensured their social acceptance, and the South Asian community in the Greater Toronto Area is no exception. We hope that this project has led to a better understanding, or a gradual acceptance of this community here.

Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like A Man, is like the grand finale to the theme of marginalization. It deals with the marginalization of the male dancer in South Asian society. Once again, it’s a family setting, the home is the ‘battleground’ in this inter-generational conflict of gender discrimination and patriarchal manipulation. It is a brilliant study of human relationships and weaknesses; the age-old battle between father and son, between tradition and youthful rebellion. In the world of classical Indian dance, especially bharatanatyam, there is a curious reversal of gender discrimination. It is the male dancer that is being sidelined. There is a wide-spread perception that dance is a frivolous indulgence and not a job for a man, that it is effeminate and suitable only for the female body. Dance is also perceived as a form of entertainment and not an art form, and the biggest roadblock to Indian male dancers is the silent issue of sexuality. A dancing man is automatically presumed to be homosexual! As the number of second and third generation South Asians increase, examining this South Asian mind-set and finding acceptable solutions becomes increasingly important.

Dance Like A Man is a richly layered play and it boasts an exciting cast. Lata Pada, Artistic Director of Sampradaya Dance Creations plays the role of the older ‘Ratna’. This marks Lata’s stage acting debut. Anand Rajaram plays the role of the older Jairaj. Today, Anand is indisputably one of the finest South Asian actors we have here. Emerging actors, Sid Sawant, as Viswas and Navneet Kaur, as Lata complete the cast. SAWITRI Theatre is proud to be presenting the Canadian premiere of one of Mahesh’s most successful and celebrated plays. And to have Mahesh here during four weeks of rehearsal and production is going to enhance the creative vibrancy of the piece.

Interestingly, the other two Dattani plays were also Canadian premieres. Why Mahesh Dattani? India has many excellent plays and some phenomenal playwrights, but none who write in English. They write in their mother tongue, and some flavours are definitely lost when you translate. I also attribute this affinity towards his works to how closely I probably identify with him in regards to the two worlds that exist within us. These worlds invariably collide, but eventually compromise and work out a co-existence. Both of us are an urban phenomenon. We are raised in one language at home, Gujarati in my case, and his too. But we spend our entire life learning, thinking, feeling expressing and dreaming in English. There is often a feeling that we are neither here nor there, and yet at the same time we straddle two worlds and create a new identity.

Additional information:

Dance Like A Man – Three performances. On Thursday, October 16, Friday, October 17 and Saturday October 18 - 8 pm, at Meadowvale Theatre, Mississauga.

Directorial Vision – Mahesh Dattani; Co-Director – Christina Collins; Set & Lighting Design - Joe Pagnan; Music – Deepak Sant; Stage Manager – Heather Bellingham

CAST: Lata Pada, Anand Rajaram, Sid Sawant, Navneet Kaur

Meadowvale Theatre, 6315 Montevideo Road, Mississauga, ON, L5N 4G7

Tickets: $50, $30 & $20. Go to http://sawitridlam.bpt.me  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Art & Poetry Show by Meena Chopra

In celebration of Ontario Culture Days Doors Open on September 27, 2014

Artist & Poet Meena Chopra 
Last Saturday, I visited the Sampradaya  Dance Creations in Mississauga to see Meena Chopra’s exhibition The Radiance of Culture Days – Art & Poetry Show by Meena Chopra.

Painting from the series
Meena exhibited her recent works – a series of nudes that are at once languid and taut, depicting female energy. 

For Meena, this series of figurative paintings is a return to roots. Along with the paintings, she had also displayed some of her recent poems.

“My objective is to show the energy that emanates from women. It’s raw, carnal, forceful, untameable, and even unfathomable. After doing abstract work for some time, I was keen to return to figurative work,” Meena says, explaining her motivation to do the series of nudes.

“Through my art I endeavour to search the co-existing universal duality. I try to find the totality in the influx of paradoxes in an effort to unlock the mysteries of life. I search the elusive reality of human consciousness through the lines, splashes of colours and the impressions of brush strokes on my canvasses and at times through pen and paper in the form verses,” she adds.

Meena thanked Culture Days-FĂȘte de la culture, Mississauga Arts Council, Sampradaya Dance Creations, and the culture division of City of Mississauga - Municipal Government for giving her the opportunity to showcase her work.

Here’s one of her poems:

"I penned down the sun shine,


An instance

Inscriptions settled down in a hub

Structuring words with

Seething radiance,

Spread and Smoothened with the finger tips,


A spectacular,

ever changing landscape,

Spelled a lifetime,

Blending a new language,

A simmering new journey

Co-travelling perpetuity."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mirror By The Road: A Transforming Journey Of Spirituality In Everyday Life: Dr. Peter Oppenheimer

Guest post by Gyanendra Shukla

More often than not, one thinks of spirituality in times of adversity, not during happier circumstances. Perhaps adversity is God’s way of teaching vital lessons without which life would not be complete. This is because in the story of life, events good or bad are only a comma and not a full stop.

Dr. Peter Openheimer, a Stanford University graduate, faced adversity in both his personal life and his career. Personally, he was devastated after his separation from his lady love, and professionally, he lost a consulting contract.
His battered self-esteem led him to believe that life was devoid of any meaning, and he began to drift apart. Following the hippie trail, he landed up India. This event changed his life forever.

Mirror by the Road is a journey of his personal transformation from a troubled mind to a trouble-shooter (he became a counselor and therapist in Northern California after his return to the USA).

His inner darkness or ignorance, the cause of bondage and suffering, was illuminated by the light of knowledge which he acquired with the help of a Guru (one who dispels darkness). This Guru acted as a ‘Mirror’ to bring about the liberating experience and ultimate happiness.

Though no literary masterpiece, this book, in simple language, captures the scenes of rural India, especially Kerala, the kindness of strangers and the friendships struck with the locals.

It emphasizes on the  life spent in the Ashram of his Guru who helped him understand the meaning of ‘’tat tvam asi’’ (That thou art) and self as a part of cosmic energy by recognizing one’s own self, mirrored in the faces of all human beings.

For him India was a state of mind than a place because it helped him travel the distance from ‘I am happy’ to ‘I am happiness’.

Published by Inner Wealth Press, California, 1988