Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Côté were hunting for a name for their new work. They wanted something that both honoured their collaborative relationship and captured the essence of the piece it would produce.
Stuck on the concept of “together” but agreeing it made a boring title, they eventually landed on Akshongay; the word’s Bengali translation.
“The clincher for me was that it had the word ‘gay’ in it,” laughs Laberge-Côté. “We agreed it had a beautiful and intriguing sound to it, which fit much better with what we were trying to create.”
Their working relationship catalyzed in 2003 when they first met at an opening night reception. Already having seen each other perform on separate occasions, they were both feeling hungry for change and new experiences. One of them proposed they work together, though neither remembers now who first popped the question.
“He had an understated, quiet serenity about his performance that really captured my attention,” Bhattacharya says. “It wasn’t showy or ego driven. He managed to hold my attention without distracting from the ensemble work that was on stage.”
“I was drawn to the incredible intensity in her eyes when she performed” Laberge-Côté adds. “We were committed to finding a way to work together, though we weren’t sure exactly what it would produce.”
A few weeks later they went into studio with the goal of figuring out how to collaborate.
Finding a common language was the necessary though complex starting point. Laberge-Côté’s primary training is in Graham Technique (which focuses on the torso and feet) while Bhattacharya’s background is Bharatanatyam (a classical Indian dance style which emphasizes the hands and the eyes). Occasional clashes arose, more around musical selections than movement, but they forged a creative partnership that would last more than a decade.
“I don’t know if things in the relationship have changed over time,” Bhattacharya says. “It’s more like the volume has been turned up. Many things have happened in our personal lives, joys that we’ve shared, challenges we’ve helped each other overcome. In the end I have to say it all adds up to one of the best and longest lasting collaborative relationships I’ve had.”
“The strength of our friendship allows us to be absolutely uncompromising about the art,” Laberge-Côté adds. “It’s comforting to know we can be completely frank with each other in studio. Knowing each other so well allows us to be quite transparent during the creative process, which makes things move along much quicker.”
Their fourth collaborative outing and first full-length work together, Akshongay is a dreamy, whimsical blend of their unique cultural backgrounds and dance styles. Weaving elements of Hindu mythology and French Canadian folklore, the show explores how themes of love, loss, sexuality, and death arise in both cultures.
“We hope the imagery is open and universal enough to read differently for each person in the audience,” Laberge-Côté says. “We’ve touched on images like running through fields, cliff diving, tender intimacy, and rough sex. The audience may see something totally different, but that’s what’s interesting about contemporary dance.”
Part of Harbourfront Centre’s NextSteps
Thurs, April 11 – Sat, April 13, 8pm
231 Queens Quay W