Dance Review: World Premiere of Natasha Bakht’s 786

Bakht photo

Natasha Bakht, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

University of Ottawa Law Professor and Indian contemporary dancer and choreographer Natasha Bakht performed the world premiere of her dance piece 786 on Thursday, October 6, 2016 and Friday, October 7, 2016 in Toronto at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. 786 was commissioned by Fall for Dance North and performed as part of their 2016 festival offerings.

As the program describes, “786 is the total value of the letters in the Islamic phrase ‘Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim’, which is commonly translated as, ‘In the name of God, most gracious, most compassionate’. This is a phrase that some Muslims will often say before beginning a significant endeavour. This piece explores the sacred in the everyday. It strives to shift people’s misconceptions about Muslims, highlighting the positive aspects of this stigmatized community (communities really) including their artistic and creative sides.”

I was fortunate to be able to attend Bakht’s performance last Friday and was transported by the fluidity and precision of her movement and the potency of her expressive choreography set to a beautiful score played live on stage. It can be challenging for a solo performer to effectively fill a large stage space (such as the one at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) with movement. Bakht not only accomplished this with her own performance, but also established an interaction with the musicians on stage that allowed their performance to also fill the visual and auditory space with her on stage. When performing as a soloist to an audience of over 3000, every fiber of a performer’s physical, emotional, and cognitive self must be fully engaged in order to establish a connection that speaks to the audience, and Bakht effectively established this connection. The importance of this in the context of the Fall for Dance North festival is that one of the festival’s primary objectives is to reach out and establish new dance audiences through exposure to an eclectic and carefully curated offering of short dance pieces performed over a three-day period, made accessible through affordable ticket prices, free workshops, and artist talks.

On a more personal note, as a legal academic/dancer/choreographer myself, I’m interested in how the different worlds and languages of law and legal academia, and art, and dance specifically, interact, reflect, overlap, and diverge from each other. These two worlds can be logistically and cognitively difficult to balance on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, but also extremely rewarding, especially when they complement each other so well—as exhibited by 786, and Bakht’s work in general. As Bakht’s contributions in the sphere of legal academia reach into issues of women’s equality, religious freedom, law and culture, and minority rights, her contribution to the world of dance and art with 786 is a compelling complement to her academic work and an example of the synergy that can exist between the languages of law and dance.

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