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Photo: David Hou
About the company:
Menaka Thakkar Dance Company, Canada’s oldest Indian dance company was founded in 1978 as a performing wing for Menaka’s dance school, Nrtyakala, and later separately incorporated in 1993 as an independent performing company. The central artistic mandate embodies the vision of the Company’s functioning over a whole range of Indian dance, traditional and contemporary, involving creation of new works, presenting home seasons and touring. Besides the usual wing of new creation, the company has recently developed two special units of dance creation:one for contemporary choreography and the other for creating works for young audiences. The company also aims to emphasize and sustain its dancers’ training within and beyond the Indian dance traditions in which they are primarily rooted, so that they can effectively function in the shared domain with other dance traditions. The two specialized units that coordinate the activities towards these objectives are (i) MTDC Dance Lab; and (ii) DanceAdvance, a two-week training residency for professional development of the contemporary face of Indian dance.
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About the choreographer:
Canada’s national icon of Indian dance, Menaka Thakkar, is celebrating 40 years in Canada! During this time, besides developing her own brilliant career as a dancer/choreographer, she started the first school of Indian Dance (Nrtyakala – Academy of Indian Dance) and created the first Indian dance performance company (Menaka Thakkar Dance Company). Ms. Thakkar is credited with having introduced Indian dance to Canada and was the first artist from a diverse culture to receive funding from the Canada Council,leading the way for other artists from diverse cultures to be recognized for their art form. Menaka has been embraced by the Toronto arts community ever since she arrived and is a most respected part of Canada’s dance history.
She is celebrating with a dance weekend of two performances, one for general audiences and the other for children based on the epic Ramayana at the Fleck Dance Theatre. Both works are created by Menaka and feature her dance ensemble. The lead role of Sitayana, formerly performed by Menaka herself, will be performed by Neena Jayarajan who has been with the school and the company for 20 Years.
"I still remember those dark winter nights of my childhood, when a priest would come to our home and recite the verses from the Ramayana. Tucked under a warm blanket, I would thrill to his melodious voice as it trailed through the strange shadows cast on walls by the slowly swinging kerosene lamps. Rama and Sita were my ideals. I revered Rama and I wanted to grow up to be Sita. But tears would come to my eyes when I thought of Sita's fire ordeal and her later exile when unjust doubts were cast on her purity. How could Rama, my ideal hero, do this to her? I felt confused and even angry, but most of all hurt and fearful. I too was a woman. Would my own future husband treat me so unjustly? The priest was very learned and sympathetic. He understood the fears and misgivings of- a ten year old girl, swinging between devotion and doubt." - Menaka Thakkar
"Being a student of Menaka Thakkar for over 25 years, the role of Sita was one I watched her perform with great admiration. Never could I have imagined that I would one day take her place. Although the story of Ramayana comes from a well known epic, Menaka di's interpretation of Sitayana has always been ahead of its years. Her's is a modern interpretation because it focuses on the telling of this great epic from Sita’s point of view, taking us into the inner thoughts, feelings, tragedies, and joys Sita encountered through her many life experiences. Many wonder how being a South Asian Canadian I am able to represent the role of Sita which is deeply rooted in what is often termed “Indian subtleties”. Having been born and raised in Toronto, my relatives overseas in India are often amazed at my deeply rooted passion and interest in Indian culture and art. Being part of a dance company of young women predominantly raised in Canadian societ, we go through detailed dance training where our teacher Menakadi explains history, cultural symbols and context of characters through strong imagery that gets imbedded in our minds and bodies and becomes a natural part of our dancing the various roles of ancient epics. Although these stories are centuries old, they carry with them profoundly significant messages applicable to our modern western society. I often find myself relating to Sita, regardless of the centuries between us. Sita was a woman who rwent through many high's and lows and felt extremely deep emotions which we can all relate to regardless of age, gender or cultural background. " - Neena Jayarajan, Sita