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Deepti Gupta with Arzoo Dance Theatre

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Deepti Gupta is a Canadian choreographer and world-renowned practitioner of Kathak (a classical dance of North India) who marches to the beat of her own drum and deserves a special place in Public Energy’s 20-year retrospective. The program from which this 20X20 is drawn was one of three programs of Deepti’s work we presented in Peterborough between 2000 and 2007.

Drawing inspiration as much from the rugged Ontario wilderness (early in her career one of her favourite places to perform was the Arlington Hotel in the small town of Maynooth, about 260 km northeast of Toronto) as from India itself where she now lives much of the year, Deepti presented an evening of work consisting of both traditional Kathak dance and her bold experiment, titled Rubies, with the Chhau form of martial arts that also incorporated projections by Peterborough artist Lester Alfonso. The attempt to create a new signature style of dance using Chhau was what motivated the Chalmers Foundation to grant Deepti a fellowship to develop the work and it is what intrigued both Public Energy and Toronto’s Danceworks to program it in the fall of 2003.

To perform Rubies Deepti took on the task of training three dancers in Chhau from scratch. The dancers seen here – Melissa Adella Kramer, Kyla Kowalski and Jenna Morrison – were all graduates of various professional Western training programs who had then spent the past few years learning Indian dance from Deepti. The choice of using non-Indian dancers – and training them in a style of dance traditionally practiced only by male dancers – was a typical example of Deepti thumbing her nose at the set ways of the Indian dance world. If the result was uneven it was also an invigorating breath of fresh air featuring dancers and audiences exploring unknown territory.

It is a territory that, it seems, has not been visited in dance since, despite its obvious lures: Rubies described a world inhabited by Lalita, the tantric goddess and embodiment of energy, as described in the esoteric Sanskrit text Lalita Sahsranama – The Thousand Names of Lalita. The program notes described Rubiesas “a celebration of the rising and flowing of life force, of energy and vitality.” The notes also describe it in a way that embodies the vision Deepti set for her company Arzoo Dance Theatre, to function as an example of global exchange and re-tribalization: “It brings together elements from a remote tribal culture with the “urban tribal’. It builds a creative link between dancers and artists in Canada with those in remote villages in India. This is post-modern reality.”

-Bill Kimball

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