Alumna Lata Pada (MA ’96) has already received Canada’s highest award – the Order of Canada, in 2009 – but now she can add one of India’s highest honours to her collection. In January, Pada accepted the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award for her contributions to Indian dance and her advocacy work in ensuring there was an inquiry into the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 and new anti-terrorist legislation in place.
India’s President Pratibha Devisingh Patil presented the award to Pada at a ceremony in New Delhi. Founder and artistic director of Sampradaya Dance Creations, as well as founder and director of Sampradaya Dance Academy, Pada says, “It’s quite an honour to be one out of 15 chosen from about 24 million people of Indian origin who live around the world. I think it’s not too often they’ve given this to an artist or a woman.”
Right: Lata Pada performing in a production of Kshetram – Dancing the Divine
It is the recognition by India for her contributions to the arts in Canada that really tickles her. “That is the one that gives me so much joy,” she says. “For the 46 years I’ve lived here, I’ve been demystifying the arts of India so they can share the stage with others around the world.”
It’s a passion Pada doesn’t ever see coming to an end. In fact, she was in India when the word came she was nominated and then chosen for the award, meeting with costume designers and dancers for her next production, Taj, which she calls “a true India-Canada collaboration.” The world premiere of Taj was commissioned by Luminato – Toronto Festival of Arts & Creativity (June 10 to 19) and tells the human story behind India’s Taj Mahal. Taj will run June 10 to 12 at the Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
“It’s quite different from anything the company has done in the past because it’s more theatre based,” says Pada, responsible for the concept and artistic direction behind Taj.
Award-winning Canadian playwright John Murrell has been commissioned to write the script for Taj, which will be a 90-minute contemporary dance-theatre piece directed by Tom Diamond, choreographed by India’s Kathak artist Kumudini Lakhia and featuring Canadian actress Lisa Ray and Bollywood star Kabir Bedi. York theatre Professor Phillip Silver will do the set and lighting design, Jacques Collin the visual design, Praveen D. Rao the music and Rashmi Varma costume design.
Pada, a member of the Faculty of Fine Arts Advisory Council and an adjunct professor in the Department of Dance’s graduate program, also collaborates with York through Sampradaya Dance Creations for Dance Intense, an annual choreographic residency that provides opportunity for professional development for emerging artists practicing in South Asian dance.
Left: Lata Pada
Her advocacy work, however, can’t be ignored. Her award is also for “the advocacy role I took in pushing for an inquiry and for keeping this terrible, heinous tragedy uppermost in the minds of Canadians,” she says. And hard as it is – Pada lost her first husband and two daughters in the Air India bombing – it has given her a place to focus her rage. “It happened 25 years ago, but there is still so much to learn. It was an awakening for Canada.” The plan was devised on Canadian soil by Canadians, against Canadians.
Pada was determined to have government agencies, which were “incompetent, negligent or culturally insensitive” in the lead up the tragedy “take ownership of what went wrong.” It’s not over yet. Aviation security problems and terrorist threats are still issues today, and it remains to be seen how many of the 64 recommendations made in the final report in June 2010 by the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182, headed up by retired judge John Major, will be adopted, she says.
Art of course, is an area that Pada has turned to in dealing with the tragedy, and she continues to do so. Her 2003 dance-theatre production, Revealed by Fire, portrayed her dark journey through grief and subsequent emergence to reclaim her life (see YFile, Nov. 11, 2003). It also had a York connection, involving York playwright Judith Rudakoff in the Department of Theatre, Faculty of Fine Arts.
This dancer, choreographer and advocate has also received the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Toronto Sanskriti Sangha, the 2006 Best Teacher Award from the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana, the 2003 Professional Woman of the Year Award from the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce, the 2000 New Pioneers Award and the 1995 Mississauga Arts Award.
By Sandra McLean, YFile writer