This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
Dance Collection Danse, Canada’s dance archive, has chosen Bageshree Vaze as its inaugural artist researcher-in-residence. Vaze’s research will go towards creating a choreography exploring the history of South Asian dance in St. John’s, N.L.
During the yearlong residency program, Vaze, a Toronto-based dance artist and musician, will receive research support and have full access to the organization’s collection.
Vaze said it’s important to bring her research to the public in this visibly embodied way.
“I think when it comes to dance, writing about it, putting it in a book, is not going to make it visible … and it’s been a hidden history, or ignored history,” she said. “The way that it’s going to become visible … is for it to be part of the spectrum of mainstream dance programming.”
Vaze began learning bharatanatyam in St. John’s in the 1980s before making classical Indian dance a significant part of her career. With her research time supported by a $2,500 award, Vaze will dig into Dance Collection Danse’s archive, particularly the Menaka Thakkar collection, to discover what students were learning during the 1970s and 1980s and what performances were coming to Canada. She also plans to interview students who participated in workshops Thakkar and others held at the Hindu Temple in St. John’s during that time.
Amy Bowring, Dance Collection Danse’s executive and curatorial director, said that she thought “all the cool things that are in the archives” could inspire new choreographic work.
“We knew it was an untapped part of history that hasn’t been researched and written about, so it’s always exciting to support people in uncovering new research,” she said. “And there’s still so much dance history in Canada that’s yet to be uncovered and rediscovered and illuminated.”
According to the 2016 census, South Asians make up less than one per cent of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Vaze’s desire to research this community goes deeper than creating professional performance. It recognizes that seeing and learning Indian dance is a way of building cultural knowledge.
“Dance is about bodies, and dance onstage has to reflect the bodies in our society,” Vaze said.
Bharati Reddy came with her family to St. John’s from India in the 1960s and was part of the temple community that hosted the dance classes that Vaze will be researching. She remembers attending movie nights hosted by the secular organization Friends of India where community members would gather to watch reel-to-reel projections of Bollywood movies. And while seeing Indian identities represented in those movies was important, so was coming together as a community.
She remembers that in later years the dance students from the temple participated in this community-building by performing at celebrations such as Republic Day, an Indian holiday celebrated in January. And they also helped to share the culture they were experiencing and learning about by performing at big multicultural events like Canada Day celebrations. “It’s important that that culture is being passed on and that it is still alive,” said Reddy.
The stories and information that Vaze collects over the next year from community members like Reddy will inform a choreography that she hopes to premiere in 2023.