Arno Kamolika – An unlikely Bharatanatyam dancer

“Dance is an expression of community, and the performer brings something to the performances based on their experiences,” says Arno Kamolika.

A Bangladeshi-Canadian architect-turned-dancer, Kamolika is bringing her latest performance, Parasakti, to audiences on March 19, 2021 at UBC’s Chan Centre for the Performing Arts.

Dancer Arno Kamolika says that ideas only take shape when you welcome others into your space. | Photo courtesy of Arno Kamolika

Growing up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Kamolika, who comes from an academic family, was always more inclined towards the arts. Through her mother, she discovered singing and a song-and-dance school at the age of six. Originally interested in singing, Kamolika discovered she preferred dancing and was introduced to a dance form called Manipuri, a classical form of dance from Manipur, India.

“The fact that the dance form was colourful and creative at the same time is what attracted me to it,” says Kamolika.

She continued being trained in Manipuri under her first guru, Sharmila Bannerjee, when she discovered the form of dance she continues to practice and be in love with: Bharatanatyam. At age eight, she discovered Bharatanatyam, a classical form of dance from Tamil Nadu, southern India, and trained under Belayat Hossain, who was one of the few Bharatanatyam teachers in Bangladesh at the time.

At 15, she was fortunate enough to join a rigorous workshop conducted by Hossain’s own guru, renowned scholar, professor CV Chandrasekhar. His dance performance had a transcendental effect on her. Even though his dance was accompanied by music in a language she did not understand, she understood what was being conveyed through dance.

“He had knowledge of music, rhythm and literature, and his body embodied his knowledge of the dance form at the same time,” recalls Kamolika.

Bharatanatyam in the West

After moving to Vancouver, Kamolika, an architect by profession, was not sure if she would be able to continue her training as a first generation immigrant and dancer. However, she was fortunate enough to find Vancouver-based guru, Jai Govinda. Through Govinda, Kamolika has found other gurus, such as India-based Bragh Bessel and came across opportunities to teach dance and be a part of dance schools and studios. Among them is a Toronto-based dance company, NovaDance.

“I think the kindness and warmth I received from my mentors, peers, dance and musician buddies, audience and students helped me to re-establish my identity as a dance artist,” says Kamolika.

In talking about whether such an Indian classical dance is difficult to understand for an audience unaware of its intricacies, Kamolika assures that music and dance know no boundaries or language barriers especially. She says a little bit of extra love and thought goes into creating a production for an audience that may not speak the same language as the narration.

Collaboration and dance performances

“Any work becomes different the moment a new collaborator or artist comes into the scene,” says Kamolika who has worked in collaboration with many dancers and musicians for her various performances including Shyama in 2018.

Kamolika along with a few other colleagues adapted the Tagorian drama, Shyama, into a dance drama performance. Shyama was performed in Vancouver and was also taken to Dhaka and parts of the U.S. and received a lot of appreciation. Even though Kamolika has collaborated with other artists in the past, her upcoming project is very different, mainly due to its diversity.

Her next performance is coming to the audience virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. Parasakti – the flame within is going to be a collaboration of six artists: Akhil Jobanputra, a Hindustani vocalist; Srividhya Sairam, a Carnatic vocalist; Curtis Andrews, a percussionist and mridangist; sitar player Sharanjeet Singh Mand; tabla and dilruba players Satpreet Singh; and Kamolika as the Bharatanatyam dancer.

“Ideas only take shape when you welcome others into the space, and they react to what you are doing and saying and that’s how I work,” says Kamolika.

More information on tickets and how to register can be found on: www.chancentre.com

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