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A cultural pioneer in Canada

Menaka Thakkar

Celebrating two milestones

By Aruna Mallya Gupta


25 years of her dance school , Nrtyakala and 60 years of Menaka, were celebrated with great aplomb March 08-10  at the Premiere  Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto.   Showcasing  almost 90 dancers in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and contemporary styles, Thakkar took the audiences through a passage of time, capturing  the nuances of  her dance career  taking seed in India and blossoming  and bearing fruit in Canada.


“To study a banyan tree, you not only must know its main stem in its own soil, but also must trace the growth of its greatness IN THE FURTHER SOIL, for then alone you can know the true nature of its vitality.”…Rabindranath Tagore.


Inspired by this axiom, Thakkar’s  delightful troupe started with invocations to Ganesha and in the first half of the evening presented traditional jathiswaram, abhinaya techniques, varnam etc. Thakkar’s endearing  nostalgic snippets, shared very intimately in the darkened space between each performance, added to the magic of the evening.  One definite crowd-pleaser in the pre-intermission half was “Little shoots in the further soil”. The youngest students of Nrtyakala did a Gujarati  gig, a nursery sing-song, ‘show and tell’ of sorts in traditional attire.


The second half of the presentation, covered a wider spectrum, taking us from the sensuous rhythms of Odissi to ballet, western dance and then back to the conventional Tillana of Bharatanatyam. With perfect poise and grace, senior dancers in the group like Nova Bhattacharya blended eastern and western techniques quite effortlessly,  most definitely a credit to Thakkar’s ongoing experimental works involving fusion of dance styles.  


With  choreographic classics like Geet Govinda, Sitayana, Parashakti, Mukti Nad etc. , Thakkar has carved a niche in the hearts of art lovers.  Having created a whole generation of rigourously trained dancers across Canada, from Vancouver, Winnipeg and Regina to Thunder Bay, Ottawa and St. Johns , Newfoundland,  she has taken Indian dance to University campuses and public libraries and is the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) from York University for her contribution to dance.


Conspicuous by her absence on stage, save a brief  appearance during the junior artistes’ sing song childhood memoirs, the  teacher’s  finesse and eye for perfection were amply visible in the high calibre of performance of her brood. Thakkar promises to enthrall the audiences in person later this year with two new solo creations.  Well, if past history is any indication, the wait, friends will definitely be worthwhile!!!

(Aruna Mallya Gupta is a Toronto-based freelance writer. She has been a contributor to India Today, India Currents and is on the editorial board of Toronto-based Arts Quarterly KALA.)