Art is better than drugs.

I am a person who gets migraines.  Sometimes chronic, sometimes episodic, always awful.  Over the years I’ve come to realise that my life as a performing artist has given me the tools to survive this condition, the tools to find a way to push through and perform.  Sometimes those performances are on stage, sometimes those performances are in public, sometimes those performances are the act of getting out of bed.  Migraines are this crazy combination of emotional and physical symptoms.  The emotional ones are the hardest, an invisible hand trying to drag me down a drain of black, sludgy water.  Right now, I have the superpowers to hold that hand at bay, granted me by the fact that I am in creation.  I speak to that hand like it is a child, “yes, yes, I know you think everything is horrible” I say, “ but I am making a work of art and I don’t have time for you”.  They get clever, the migraines, they sneak up on me at night, giving me terrible anxiety-filled dreams in which I cannot breathe.  Breath.  Today, the dancers will work with breath.  Today, I will breathe, and yawn, and laugh, and dance.  Today I will work on Infinite Storms.


Mika Kurosawa.

Mika Kurosawa.  Artist.  Choreographer.  Dancer.  Woman.  Trailblazer.  Feminist.  Fierce feminist.   Gentle soul.  Quirky soul.  Happy heart.  Mischievous mind.  Gone.  Deceased.  Passed on.  59 years on the planet.   In 2005 Mika came to Toronto at my invitation to create a duet for myself and Jenn Goodwin – Gold Moon. The work that emerged was sparse and simple, layered and complex.  Mika’s English was limited, my and Jenn’s Japanese non-existent – and yet, we found a way to collaborate and connect.  Mika was called the godmother of Japan’s modern dance scene, and when Jenn and I were invited to present Gold Moon at the Setagaya Performing Arts Centre it was clear that the local dancers considered us to be outrageously lucky to be performing her work.  We were.  I don’t even know if we knew it at the time, but we were.  She would dance things, she would mime things, she would shout Yes! No! More! Less!  Good!  Bad!  She would be maddeningly picky and specific one moment, deliberately coy and mysterious the next.   “Surprise me.”  That was her big one, “surprise me”.  She’d built the work, given us a structure to live inside, we were expected to physically replicate the movement each time – and we had to surprise her.   When we succeeded, she would either be filled with glee, giggling and clapping her hands together; or she would thank us for making her cry.  We had no idea what was going on at times, but she got us to trust her and the work.  She was such a big deal! New York Times obituary big deal! She never let on though, was completely matter of fact about her path as an artist, it was for her all about the work.  Work that pushed boundaries, work that sought to find new ways to ask questions, work that looked beyond the confines of cultural context and sought to herald a new way of thinking about dance.  Mika, it was an honour to dance for you.  I will forever aspire to surprise you.  

Nova Bhattacharya and Jenn Goodwin. Photo by Dianna Last

Congratulations Neena!

Neena Jayarajan is one of 34 Ontario artists to receive a 2016 Chalmers Arts Fellowship!
The Chalmers family has a well-known history as one of Canada’s premier patrons of the arts. Long associated with the founding and support of a number of arts institutions, they have also demonstrated a commitment to supporting the individual artists who contribute to Canada’s culture.  Chalmers Arts Fellowships support artists in Ontario to examine, investigate, explore and/or experiment with style, technique, method, or an issue or concern in their arts practice. The program allows artists to dedicate themselves to their arts practice, thereby making a significant impact upon their careers beyond a single project.
Neena has been awarded funding from this highly competitive program to experiment with ensemble choreography on bharatanatyam dancers; collaborate with Ravi Jain on a project with actors; and work with yours truly (Nova Bhattacharya) on the creation of a new solo.
As the recipient of a Chalmers Fellowship myself in 2003, I know how meaningful it is to receive such an endorsement of one’s artistic endeavors.  The Fellowship provides a formal construct for the time and space required to dream big and dive deep into creativity.  I'm not in the least bit surprised that Neena has been recognized for her passion and formidable talent!  Watch out world, here she comes!


Sudha Thakkar-Khandwani

Sudha Thakkar-Khandwani - it's unlikely that she will rest in peace. She'll be explaining to Prince and Bowie that Indian dance rocks. She'll be convincing Shiva and Parvati to have another dance-off. She'll be just as busy supporting and nurturing dance, dancers, art and artists in the hereafter as she was in the here. Thank you, thank you for all you did Sudha-ben; you changed the face of dance in Canada.

Long before diversity, culturally-diverse forms and trans-cultural became buzz words for programmers and funders, Sudha was presenting, promoting and waving the flag for a broader spectrum of dance in Canada.

Through her festivals she promoted international and national artists, and she presented artists working in classical and contemporary idioms. She was not content to do this in isolation or in a cultural ghetto. She rabidly pursued artists, presenters, journalists and scholars from worlds including those of Euro-American contemporary dance, the African, Korean, and Chinese diasporas, and theatre, music and visual artists to insist that they expose themselves to the work she was presenting. She launched the careers of many of Canada’s second and third generation dance artists and supported and nurtured their work through commissions and mentorship projects that she initiated. The international artists she brought to Canada from India, Japan, France, the UK, and the United States deeply inspired the artistic vision of many artists working in Canada.

Sudha personified the word indefatigable. Her work made an impact upon Canadian society through her passion and commitment to presenting dance that was a meaningful reflection of the population.

I am frustrated by my inability to truly articulate the depth of this woman’s contribution to the dance scene in Canada. Perhaps because it is so hard to separate what she did for the big picture from what she did for me. She always supported my dancing and my artistry. In 1994 she presented me as an emerging artist in her Navodaya festival; she always found a way to bring me and my work into the Kalanidhi sphere; and she argued with me when she thought I was being a young upstart and losing sight of what matters in the arts – sharing.

I hope that you can extrapolate from my hopelessly inadequate words (and google searching her biography!) how important this woman was and what a loss it is for us all that she is gone. Nova Dance exists in part because this woman believed in the art. Sudha, we mourn you, we salute you and we promise to keep fanning the flames of the fire you started.


Arts Day on the Hill

On Tuesday October 25, Nova joined arts colleagues from across the country for Arts Day on the Hill in Ottawa. Delegates met with MPs of all stripes to thank the Federal Government for recent increases in arts funding, and to continue to lobby for long term commitments for programs that support Canadian artists. Nova was charged with introducing the Honourable Minister for Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly.

nova speech

"Senators, Ministers, Members of Parliament, my arts colleagues from across the country – I am here on behalf of Canadian artists to say thank you. Thank you for the investments of budget 2016 - and through these investments recognizing that a healthy and vibrant arts sector means a healthy and vibrant Canada. Thank you especially for doubling the investment in the Canada Council for the Arts - I know the CAC has been lobbying for this for a long time - so gratifying to see that goal becoming a reality.

Investment in Canadian artists has many, many returns for us all. As artists our job is to both hold a mirror up to our world - and to provide a respite from it; to dream the future and to hold our histories and our past. Now, more than ever in the cultural realm, Canada is poised to transform its understanding of its own identity and what the artistic output of a nation can be. Reconciliation and support for Indigenous artists are the guts of the transformation, because a true commitment to reconciliation and de-colonization is a commitment to sharing – sharing resources and sharing power on all levels as we work to establish new systems of creation and dissemination.

Prime Minister Trudeau has said that: “Canada has succeeded – culturally, politically, economically – because of our diversity” With a progressive, moral and ethical cultural policy that embraces this principle - Canada’s multi-faceted identity can shine with dazzling brilliance. A strong cultural policy must put the art at the heart, and support it with the connective tissue of investment in cultural spaces and audiences – it must feed the evolution of larger spheres of inclusion and open our eyes to multiple expressions of our current moment. Budget 2016’s Cultural Spaces and Showcasing Canada programs are also integral to establishing distribution channels for a collective Canadian culture. Cultural spaces must be able to program, accommodate, invite and reflect all Canadians/ and we need to have access to international markets, sending Canadian art into the world that is a meaningful representation of who we are – indigenous art, settler art, contemporary and classical art – are all a part of who we are as Canadians today.

We need a cultural policy with strong philosophical under-pinnings, we need our art and our artistic institutions to function as a deep ecosystem – capable of listening, adapting and responding to its inhabitants. We need - a Minister of Canadian Heritage who is an impassioned, energetic and unabashed believer in the power of art. I’m pleased to introduce Minister Joly who over the past year has repeatedly demonstrated her desire to listen to and work with the arts sector. I love that the person with the digital file, keeps talking about “hacking the system”, as a choreographer I’m very impressed with how physically engaged she is when speaking about Canada 150 celebrations and the heritage portfolio - and I’m hearing great things about her resourcefulness and ability to make change. Minister Joly, before I give you the floor, I’d like to quote your Ministerial mandate letter – “Canada’s stories, shaped by our immense diversity deserve to be celebrated and shared with the world” - you’ve got the mandate, you’ve got the power, you’ve got the artists cheering you on – let’s make it happen. Ladies and gentlemen – Minister Mélanie Joly." - Nova Bhattacharya

Photo of Nova Bhattacharya by Kevin Ormsby.