Vancouver draws Indian classical dancers

Published: October 17, 2013

Richmond’€™s Rena Boggaram knew she wanted to be an Indian classical dancer at age nine. Submitted Photo


Richmond’s Rena Boggaram can fondly remember childhood outings with her mom to watch classical Indian dance performances whenever the dancers came to B.C.

But it wasn’t until she was nine-years-old that she saw Jai Govinda, now artistic director of Vancouver’s Mandala Arts and Culture, perform that she was inspired to become a dancer.

“He was pure classical (Indian dance) and I fell in love with the art form,” Boggaram said. “I saw him perform and I told my mom, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”

Fortunately, Govinda moved from Montreal to Vancouver in 1994 and opened his own dance academy. Boggaram, who was one of his first students, today teaches alongside him.

Boggaram will be performing kathak, the northern Indian classical dance form, at Mandala Arts and Culture’s fourth annual Gait to the Spirit Festival, a celebration of Indian classical dance, which runs Oct. 18 to 20 at Davie Street’s Scotiabank Dance Centre.

The festival will see acclaimed performers from across Canada, the U.S., and India, who Boggaram is eager to perform alongside. She’s even more excited for her students to see the live shows.

“In the past 15 years we’ve been having less and less good quality Indian, especially classical, dance performers coming [to Vancouver],” she said. “So the Gait to the Spirit festival is a rare opportunity for you to see some of the world’s top dancers from India and around the world.

“If you’re not surrounded by the dance form or you don’t get to see it on a frequent basis it almost loses its meaning sometimes . . . the more you can experience, watch it and learn from other artists, the more you can learn as an artist.”

And it’s for this reason Govinda started the festival four years ago.

“For a young ballet dancer here, they go see Ballet B.C— but such opportunities for Indian dance are very rare,” he said. “Although we have a lot of local performers perform throughout the year, there are very, very few top professional dancers of the classical dance style who come to Vancouver.”

So this year’s Gait to the Spirit festival boasts performances by such première dancers as Sujata Mohapatra, daughter-in-law of Padma Vibushan guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, both “legendary” masters of the odissi classical dance style. Southern Indian classical dancers Navia Natarajan from the U.S. and Canadian Bhavajan Kumar, who is now based in India, will also be performing.

“We’re lucky to bring such talent to Vancouver,” Govinda said.

The festival also has a lot to offer to those unfamiliar with the art form.

“The language of the hand gestures, the footwork, the bells around the feet of the dancers, the intricate rhythm, the haunting Indian music,” Govinda said.

“It is so refined, so highly structured, very graceful.”

Tickets for the festival are available from Banyan Books at 3608 W. 4th Ave. For more information visit

Gait to the Spirit Festival schedule:
Oct. 18: Navia Natarajan, Bhavajan Kumar perform bharata natyam, 8 p.m., $22 students/seniors, $25 adult.
Oct. 19: Sujata Mohapatra performs odissi, 8 p.m., $22 students/seniors, $25 adult.
Oct. 19: Encounter with the artists with Navia Natarajan and Bhavajan Kumar, 1 p.m., free.
Oct. 20: Parul Gupta (Toronto), Nritya Manjaree Dancers (including Boggaram) perform kathak, 1:30 p.m., pay what you can.
Oct. 20: Dance class with Sujata Mohapatra, 6:30 to 9:30p.m., $30.

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