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

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!