International Women's Day

It would be really easy to post a picture from Infinite Storms, and a pithy little political shout out – you know, something like “the women of Infinite Storms salute the women of the world”.  Easy, but a little empty.  These days, one single day on the calendar doesn’t seem to matter much.  These days it feels like every day needs to be a reminder to be humane, to be just, to be aware, to do something to make the world a better place.  Still, it is International Women’s Day, and it feels important to recognize it, to claim it,  to honour it.  I’ve decided to make a donation to the Native Women’s Association of Canada. They work to advance the well-being of Aboriginal women and girls, as well as their families and communities through activism, policy analysis and advocacy. Files being addressed by NWAC include: education, employment and labour, environment, health, human rights and international affairs and violence with a special focus on missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.  I’m also making a donation to the Onaman Collective’s Land Fund to support their goal of building a permanent traditional knowledge, Indigenous languages, and arts camp.  Small gestures.  Big dreams.  Women.  Strength.  Compassion.  Resilience.

After the storms…

About a month has passed since the premiere of Infinite Storms at The Theatre Centre, and we’re please to report that the aftermath hasn’t been harrowing at all.  Quite the opposite in fact, we’re riding high on the positive energy generated, and the generous responses the work has received.  Migraine sufferers have reached out to share how much the work resonated for them; I met with educators who came to the work through a theatre program at OISE (The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), and was so moved to hear about their newfound enthusiasm for dance; and many audience members have made the time to connect, and share observations and thoughts about how society today sits with pain.  Beyond this, Sari-up! was a HUGE hit, so much so that we’re dreaming up ways to share the joys of sari-wearing again.  Community, and compassion, the power of dance to speak more clearly than words, the joy of being wrapped in beautiful silk………..not a bad way to start the year!

Infinite Storms

Reflections in the air

by Karen Kaeja, written en route to the UK shortly after witnessing a brave and fiercely fragile rehearsal of Infinite Storms

Every morning is a race against time. How much can you get done before the looming black cloud begins to spread its wings, shooting lightening razor-sharp daggers or molten lava like ashes of agony through your skull. The world gets taken away from you in an instant, for days on end, turning your mind into a fog. As the migraine migrates through your head, the pain settles in for the long haul and you crave a dark and quiet space.
Imagine living, day in and day out, in a cage of distress banging inside of your head, trying to function at your peak because you are a driven human being and a creator and you just must do it. Therein lies Nova - an artist, intellect and curious soul.
Not only can I imagine being inside Nova’s head, I have lived there. Well not inside her head per se, but migraines invaded my life for 32 years. Quite simply told, over half of every year can only be described as agonizing. Now my daughter suffers with them daily. And so, my empathy as a mom keeps me hovering the threshold.
Migraines, you see, are not visible. They are an invisible neurological condition that steals away aspects of your life. As my daughter puts it - known signals become disrupted, not allowing information to get in, to get out, to be absorbed, or to be used. You move into simple function mode, if even that. The connections in your brain, communicating between your mind and body, are just not co-operating.
When a lifelong illness intrudes on your art, you know there is going to be depth. Art as a reflection of life is profound in Nova’s work. Privy to the conditions where light and sound hurt, and stimulus is overwhelming, Nova’s new work shines a sense of the piercing ray that in a matter of moments can carve its way into your psyche. It lets the viewer inside.
Five women, fingers shifting like effervescent edges, bodies moving in richly layered physical attention, evokes the prison of pain that penetrates. The stunning Tabla score takes on new meaning, sound-scaping cavernous rituals. This work suggests the calm before the storm, the storm before the calm that is needed to suppress the storm, and the calm that you hope will protect you from the storm.
Thank you, Nova, for shining light through striking images imbued by suspended breath where the quiet, debilitating and private turmoil of the migraine bearer, becomes real through your art form.
Succinct and to the point, performed by deeply committed and beautiful dancers, this dance, this glowing light, this incredibly bold yet fragile manifestation of artistic expression that has come from the creative and intelligent mind of Nova Bhattacharya, through her experience as a migraine sufferer, is a gentle but fierce body and mind collaboration.
My best to you for the run.

Community and Compassion


Nova and I have collaborated together for over fifteen years. During this time, we have become artistic partners, mutual advisors, confidants, and close friends. It’s been an inspiring, enlightening, and transformative journey. There are no words to express how grateful I am that our paths have merged in such a way.  

Over the years, I have witnessed her working through many severe migraines. I grew up around migraines (many of my family members are regular migraine sufferers), but never experienced them myself.  As we know, there is stigma around pain. We prefer not to talk about it. No one in my family has ever told me anything about their experience.  Despite having my own demons to deal with (insomnia and depression), migraines always have been a mystery to me. The mixture of intense physical pain, obvious mental confusion, and condensed emotional roller coasters seems to put migraines in a category of its own.

I was grateful when Nova opened up to me and “allowed me in”. The richness, the intensity and the clarity of the sensations, images, and thoughts she shared shocked me. I was therefore very excited when Nova decided to choreograph a work inspired by her migraine experiences.  This was a difficult choice for her. A conscientious choreographer, she has debated whether she wanted to share such a dark aspect of her intimate life with her audience. I applaud her courage and honesty. After all, pain is one of the most common and universal human experience, and such a vast source of artistic inspiration. It blurs the borders between what is internalized and externalized. It leads us on a journey which ranges from agony to ecstasy. It connects us at once to abyssal depths, serene clarity, and blissful enlightenment. It brings us back to the basic question: should I abandon it all or should I keep going? It distances us from each other, but also brings us back closer. It highlights the strength and resources of the individual. But above all, it reminds us of the meaning of community and compassion.

The Backstory


"Outing" my migraine condition through my work is one of the scariest things I've ever done. This post from migraine blogger Anna Eidt means the world to me: "I want to bear witness to the fact that I am not alone in a tangible way. I want to see it expressed in more than words.”  

This is what dance does, it speaks volumes without words.  

My work really mines the mythic, and yet it also exists in the world of the everyday.  So this dance has some really strong visuals that are mythic and symbolic to create images that represent the migraine.  The dance also exists in a more pedestrian place, where easily recognizable gestures are used to create a sense of empathy with the viewer. Although inspired by migraines, this isn’t a work that is exclusively about pain - by using the stages of a migraine (prodome, aura, main attack, resolution and recovery) as a structure for the work; and by using my personal experience of coming to terms with chronic pain and making peace with it - the dance is becoming one that is a celebration of the human spirit. Finding ways to live, love and laugh despite what life throws at us; the support and strength that women take and give to friends and family; resilience. This is what dance does, it transforms ideas into tangible expressions.

In my search not to be alone with my condition I have found paintings, drawings, poems, twenty-one pilots even has a song about migraines - a majority of these focus on the sheer awfulness of it all.  (what else could they do?) Over the years people I worked with would hear my vividly wacky descriptions of the experience and say “you should make a piece with all that imagery”. I would give them my withering look. (why would I make a piece about unbearable pain?) - but then over a three-year period of my condition escalating into a chronic state, something changed.  I began to realise how the perfect storm of emotional and physical symptoms had so much in common with many other conditions.  I began to realise that each time a migraine made it feel like I was dying, I could go with that - or I could find a way to hold onto all the things that make life worth living.  It doesn’t make the pain go away, but it can prevent it from taking over.  It still wasn’t easy to bring this into the studio.  I resisted.  Even in giving in, in using migraines as a jumping off point for creation - I resisted.  It’s not “about” a migraine, I insisted.  And yet, now I must admit that it is.  This is what dance does, it tells the truth of the body.  

So now, I can say it.  I am making a dance whose backstory is a migraine.  I hope that the imagery is open and universal enough to read differently for each person in the audience.  With the dancers we’ve touched on ideas like being rejuvenated by the sun, shimmering like an aura, care, friendship, and invoking the goddess.  The audience may see something totally different.  This is what dance does, it offers multiple perspectives of the current moment.

Embracing all of life’s hurts and joys. Infinite Storms, Infinite Dreams.

For more Infinite Storms information and tickets, click here.

photo of Nova Bhattacharya by John Lauener