Article from The Canberra Times – 19 January 2017
Those dance-goers who have been residents of Canberra for a few decades may remember what a heady time it was for dance in the early to mid-1990s. One of the leading artists in those days was dancer and choreographer Padma Menon, an exponent of the Kuchipudi style of Indian dance. In Canberra Menon taught widely and directed and choreographed for a small company, which she established and which was initially called Kailash Dance Company, later Padma Menon Dance Theatre. For her exceptional contribution to dance in Canberra, where she sought new ways of giving expression to the cultural diversity of our society, she was named 1994 Canberra Times Artist of the Year.
In Moving Archetypes Padma Menon uses dance to connect to larger energies. Photo: Lorna Sim
Menon moved on from Canberra in 1998 and spent the next several years in Sydney and the Netherlands pursuing her belief in the transformative power of dance. During those years, she performed across Europe and received a Masters in Choreography from Rotterdam University. Next step was India, the country of her birth, where she set up a dance centre. There she worked with women refugees and children with disabilities and partnered with human rights organisations to use dance as a tool for activism and empowerment.
Menon has been back in Canberra since 2008.
“For me personally, and for my two children, Australia is a place where you can have a sense of personal freedom,” she says. “As a single mother, India was challenging and I didn’t want that issue to be a major focus of my life. So, I thought I would move back to Australia, and more specifically to Canberra, which I know well and where I have friends.”
She is currently working towards post graduate qualifications in Counselling and is about to embark on a new dance initiative. In Europe, and especially in India, she had begun working with some broad-ranging ideas about the inherent power of dance to change lives. She says her training in Indian dance in the 1970s and 1980s had been with a teacher who was a 10th-generation dancer, someone who had been ordained to dance as part of temple ritual. When he danced he wasn’t acting a role, she suggests, but becoming someone of something else. She had always been curious about how that happened. She also noticed that, as Indian dance moved out of temples and into theatres, the power to “become” had been lost.
“I thought dance was becoming a product,” she says. “Dancers were thinking about telling a story, acting out a narrative. Now it seems there are very few dancers who believe that dance can embody something. I really wanted to stay with the older purpose of dance, which I saw as my teacher performed. And while I was working with women in India I started to notice that facilitating their moving back to that original state brought about major changes in their lives.”
She acknowledges the purpose and role of what she calls “the cult of individuality of our times” but says that she is interested in linking the individual with something larger.
So, from February 2017 in a program Menon calls Moving Archetypes, she will offer workshops and private individual sessions in Canberra using dance and movement to help participants connect with larger energies. She plans to facilitate this process of connection by referring to archetypes, characters who combine qualities that may be mirrors of our own feelings and states of mind. An understanding of their nature, Menon believes, allows a person to realise his or her potential. As examples of archetypes she mentions Siva, Kali, Cleopatra, Achilles and others, who bring together various combinations of feelings and relationships. Cleopatra, for example, combines in her story the vulnerability of falling in love with a strong sense of female power, while Achilles, as another example, is the great warrior with one weakness that makes him susceptible to danger.
“I hope that participants in my sessions will learn to bring together the polarities that are in our lives. I want to guide participants to gain a deep understanding of archetypes. What do they represent? How they can be useful to us in our daily lives? Can a knowledge of their characteristics guide us to find an inner balance and discover strengths that empower us?”
In her sessions Menon uses a variety of techniques, including contemporary and Indian movement, improvisation and reflection and discussion. But she says no specialist training is necessary, and to allay any anxieties Menon also says that the sessions suit people with a sense of theatricality.
“My sessions are not all conceptual and theoretical,” she says. The archetypes we look at have all kinds of interesting aspects to their personalities. We are connecting with characters who are often quite ostentatious and dramatic.”
There is also something disarmingly down to earth about Menon. I remember asking her, a long time ago now, what her aspirations for her Canberra dance company were. Her answer was that she wanted Indian dance to be taken seriously: “Not like tandoori chicken,” she said.
I imagine her approach to her sessions, as she sets out to generate a new space for dance to contribute to life, will be a beautifully balanced combination of the serious and the light-hearted.
To make an appointment, call Padma on 0447 643 646.