This weekend, the Abhinayam Dance Network virtually presents its annual Nadanam festival. With this digital shift comes performances from Canada, the United States and India.
The dance festival on Dec.11 centres South Asian classical dance forms and dancers while providing a safe space for participants to showcase their work on a larger platform.
After the festival’s pandemic hiatus, presenting digitally now allows international artists to participate, and there’s an emphasis on including dancers who perform both traditional and contemporary themes in their choreography.
Due to the lack of opportunity for South Asian classical dancers to collaborate and gain exposure in Canada, Anita Vijay, founder of the Abhinayam Dance Network, hopes the festival will increase representation and empower artists.
“This festival is helping the progressiveness of the styles, and the artists are paid for their time; they are connecting with audience members they’ve never had the opportunity to connect with,” said Vijay.
Earlier this year, the City of Mississauga announced a $5,000 grant for arts initiatives for the South Asian community. But Vijay said funding may not be enough to address the needs of the arts community it aims to support.
She said the pandemic has significantly changed the dance industry and shifted the needs for South Asian and BIPOC artists and that arts organizations have a role in meeting individual needs.
“I didn’t want to replicate just any other dance festival. There’s so many out there. They serve its purpose, but they don’t serve the artist. Artists need professional [opportunities] to present their own content. South Asian artists or BIPOC artists, they don’t have those opportunities [in the mainstream],” said Vijay.
Since its conception in 2017, the Abhinayam Dance Network has connected South Asian artists with workshops, professional opportunities and resources, including financial and mental health resources, that support their professional development.
Despite the virtual process of organizing the festival, participants were given tools to help them create their portfolios and worked with Vijay to refine their ideas before performing.
Priya Doobay, a kathak dancer and teacher from Scarborough, said talking in depth about the intention of her work made the experience feel more inclusive.
She also mentioned that since the performer call out was easily accessible on social media, she felt encouraged to audition despite having not performed publicly since the start of the pandemic.
“I didn’t want to ever be scared of dancing. I am a dancer and a dance teacher. I didn’t want that fear to stick with me,” said Doobay.
Doobay said she is most looking forward to getting feedback and connecting with seasoned dancers in the Indian classical dance industry to help her improve her craft.
By moving to the virtual landscape, Vijay said the boundaries of who can participate in South Asian classical dance forms, despite status or creed, and the opportunities for exposure have expanded.
“[In the South Asian community], arts are changing the dynamic now. So I think in the next 20, 30 years with more evolution of technology, we’re going to see [more changes] and I’m super excited,” said Vijay
The organization plans on expanding teaching methods and resources to better support artists with learning disabilities in the South Asian community and bringing South Asian arts into the mainstream through a future theatre company.
“Wherever you are in Canada, I really hope you’ll have access to South Asian classical arts, at your own fingertips, how you want it and when you want it,” said Vijay.