Canada-based Bharatnatyam dancer Lata Pada on finding joy in dance
Lata Pada, Founder of Mississauga-based SAMPRADAYA Dance Academy, speaks to YS Life about her love for Bharatnatyam, her journey, and her interest in the evolution of dance.
Indian-born Canadian Bharatnatyam dancer and choreographer Lata Pada is the Founder of Mississauga-based SAMPRADAYA Dance Academy and SAMPRADAYA DANCE Creations.
Originally from Bengaluru, Lata is today one of Canada’s leading artists and arts advocates–and is renowned for establishing a standard for Bharatnatyam in Canada. Her accolades include the prestigious Order of Canada in 2009, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the President of India in 2011, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
Lata akka and her team are presently in India to showcase their latest production, Mandala, which is inspired by Tibetan Sand Mandala and its philosophy of life.
Speaking to YS Life, she recalls that she started her journey with dance in Cochin, when she was only seven years old. “That was several years ago,” she says.
Lata’s father was posted in Mumbai (then Bombay) when she was introduced to Guru Kalaimamani Kalyanasundaram, her “Guru always since then”.
The danseuse moved to Canada in 1964 after her marriage. She lived in a small mining town in the northern province of Manitoba, and then shifted base to Indonesia, on the island of Sulawesi. She performed at both these places regularly.
Lata would also often travel to Bombay, spend a month there, taking classes with her Guru, and performing. During one such trip in 1985, Lata lost her daughters, Brinda and Arti, and her husband Vishnu, to the horrific Air India Flight 182 bombing.
To cope with the grief, Lata turned to Bharatnatyam for solace. Not wanting to go back to Canada, she continued living with her Guru’s family, taking classes with them, listening to their teachings, and enhancing her repertoire.
“I observed every class and went back to the basics… I was not embarrassed to do the basic movements with five-year-olds,” Lata shares. “It helped build my technique and stamina. I had a thirst and passion, and I could not satisfy that passion…And in a way, it helps me deal with my loss. Dance became my lifeline,” she says.
She exhausted herself so she “Just fell asleep without having even time to feel the pain”. “I thought of them night and day…they were there. I knew that they were watching and saying, ‘This is what we want you to do. We are so proud of you’.”
From 1985 to 1990, Lata continued to perform at shows in and outside India. At one point, she recollects completing 22 shows in a month and a half.
In 1990, she moved back to Canada and started SAMPRADAYA Dance Academy.
A new beginning
“At the age of 43, I was not going to become one of India's best if I just hung around. And I was not in the mood to hang around…my heart was in Canada, where many people wanted me to teach. At that time, there weren't many other teachers. So I went back to Canada,” Lata says.
She founded the dance academy to teach and the company to perform professional shows.
But, at heart, she says she will always be a dancer, choreographer, and teacher. “I'm actually all of that rolled into one and will always be that,” Lata says, adding that she’s now more active as a choreographer and teacher.
Her academy follows the curriculum laid out by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD), one of the world's leading dance examination boards.
Students learning at SAMPRADAYA can complete the fine arts course from York University, Canada, in two years instead of four, if they have completed Arangetram, a debut solo stage performance.
Inspirations and takeaways
When asked what she looks for in any composition, Lata has her answer ready. “I look for honesty in the work. I can sense that immediately,”
Next comes the intelligent use of space, virtuosity, understanding of the concept among dancers, and the use of music. And, finally, the most important element of any choreography is joy. “The joy that dancers communicate to each other, and to the audience,” Lata says.
A dancer is taught Navarasa or the nine emotions–happiness, sadness, disgust, surprise, anger, fear, sorrow, love, bravery, and peace. These are to be invoked from the audience–and the dancer's expression, the bhavam, should do it.
Lata points to these when she mentions the joy to be communicated with the audience.
When choreographing, Lata first spends time explaining to her students the concepts and themes, and works with dancers to set the composition right.
“It takes a very long time, and a lot of patience. The dancers have to be encouraged all the way through. But they work as a beautiful team together. That's how I make it work,” she shares.
Each choreography has taken the team as much as three years for the perfect end result to be performed on stage.
While she uses old songs from her repertoire, she makes sure she puts together one or more new and unique pieces. For instance, a concept on numbers was performed by a dancer for her Arangetram, sung by Bangalore’s Praveen Rao in Hindustani and Carnatic music.
Lata has takeaways from western dance as well. She is known for her cross-culture choreography. In 2019, her troupe performed an inter-cultural performance, Pralaya which had a mix of Bharatnatyam, Balinese dance, and Topeng mask dance.
On dancers she admires, Lata names Malavika Sarukkai and Anita Ratnam, reasoning that they go beyond being artistes; they care about the art.
“They care about the next generation, how the art form evolves; in today's generation, raising the standards for dance, challenging dancers to think about what dance means to them, and not just become subservient to the audience, organiser, or to the economics of dance.”