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

Migraine Buzz


Ever had one of those migraines where it feels like a swarm of bees is buzzing inside your head?  Try giving into it for a moment, see if you can individualize the bees, separate them, feel the air between them.  Then, locate the queen, kill her off and push the bees out - through your ears, your nostrils, your mouth………….breathe.  

This is some of the imagery that the dancers and I are exploring as we create Infinite Storms to share with you from January 26-29.

Opportunistic Migraine Management

I've been "practicing" for this for a long time.  I am not a person who loves the cold; I've always been into the picture snow makes much more than actually being exposed to it!  But as part of my migraine management routine I've been imagining lying in the snow, imagining a pleasurable sensation that would distract me from migraines for a while.  I imagine that I am magically clothed in sufficient thermal layers; that I float out the window and into the snow; that the sun is shining on my face; that I will feel that magic moment when my mind and body release the migraine pain to explore the sensation of extreme cold.  I've done practical preparation too; I've sat inside with a 4lb bag of ice on my head, and waited to see how long it would take for the ice to start to melt (40 minutes).  I can lie face down, bag of ice on the back of my head and deal with the transformation of ice to ice cold water to room temperature water for 3 to 4 hours.  I have hung out in cold plunge pools for upto 15 minutes.  But actually going outside, actually allowing my entire body to begin to truly feel the cold, the freezing, the prickling sensations, shivering, and potential mental confusion.........well, I've been waiting until there was a responsible adult around - because while the idea of hypothermia does seem better than a migraine, I've been afraid that without supervision I might well succumb to the elements.  Ironic and interesting that many of hypothermia's symptoms are eerily similar to migraine symptoms: sympathetic nervous system excitation (shivering, fast heart rate, contraction of blood vessels), muscle mis-coordination, slow and laboured movement, difficulty speaking, sluggish thinking....

Anyway, this weekend, I did it.  Got myself bundled up, burst out the back door, launched myself into the oasis of snow and lay there, not moving for 30 minutes.  I am carried away from my migrainy state, utterly preoccupied with the sensations of gradually seeping cold and the idea of heat emanating from a distant sun...........and then the wet gets through my jeans and tights so I bail (wishing I'd thought to run a hot bath before I went out!) - but now, I'm upright.

I have flushed my system with cold and there is just a little bit more energy in the battery than before.

And I have a physical experience to store in the "happy bank" for when I need it.

But here's the thing - it isn't THAT much different than all the times I've imagined it.  I have gotten myself to this same sense of refreshment without having actually felt it.  It is a thing for which dancers have an affinity.  Getting past the aches and pains, and doing the work.


a dance critic once said that my work "expresses the wonder of the human imagination"

the dancers I've cast in Infinite Storms have all captured my imagination 

their imagined worlds, expressed through their individual physicality

sometimes taking us to places we've never been, sometimes reminding of us of what we have already lived

Infinite Storms, infinite possibilities

Nova in the snow