It’s Tuesday afternoon in the Elijah Smith School’s gym and a couple hundred students are sitting in rows on the wooden floor.
They watch with rapt attention as a group of six traditional Indian dancers lift their bejeweled feet up and then set them down to pound out a quick, lively rhythm on the gym floor.
Bunches of white flowers are set atop their long black braids. Golden belts and necklaces adorn their flowing dresses of purple, orange and green stripes.
These are the dancers of the Menaka Thakkar Dance Company.
For more than 30 years, the iconoclastic Toronto-based company has toured across Canada and internationally, in India, the US, Britain, Sweden, Australia, Japan and Singapore.
The group’s founder Menaka Thakkar, along with the nine-member troupe of traditional Indian dancers, offered a preview of their steps and sways Tuesday afternoon.
And Thursday evening, nine of the company’s dancers will take the stage at the Yukon Arts Centre in a flurry of warm colour and rich fabrics.
The Yukon marks the northernmost stop the group’s western tour.
“Most people tell stories with their mouths, but we tell them with our eyes, our fingers and our feet,” says Thakkar, the group’s artistic director.
“My eyes and my face can speak everything,” she adds and makes her eyes wide and frightened, then playful and happy.
Thakkar’s company uses the language of many dance styles to re-interpret ancient themes.
Thursday’s show will begin with interpretation of two traditional Indian dances, Bharatanatyam and Odissi.
Bharatanatyam is a rhythmical dramatic dance that incorporates gesture and miming.
Parashakti is a contemporary form of the dance that deals with the cycle of creation, sustenance and destruction.
Odissi uses body movements to create ornamental patterns, and uses symbolic hand gestures and facial expressions to tell a story.
“They’re classical dances, like ballet,” says Thakkar. “And, like ballet, the dances take 15 years to learn.”
Back in the elementary school gym the performance is ending. The six dancers form a circle and kneel towards each other with their arms fluttering in the air like a flock of birds flying away.
Tickets for Thursday evening’s performance at the arts centre are $20 for adults and $15 for children or seniors.