Elizabeth Emond-Stevenson is a dance artist and writer from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg people (Orléans, Ontario). She creates/performs/collaborates under the name TAKE UP SPACE.
Dance Artists You Need to Know is a series of interviews with some of Ottawa’s most engaging BIPOC dance artists and companies.
Saveeta Sharma is a powerful force in the Ottawa dance community. Working as a choreographer, teacher, and dancer in Kathak and Odissi dance forms, her classical and contemporary performances and classes have struck many an Ottawan. I spoke with Saveeta over the phone about her longstanding career in dance here in the capital. This year is the 25th anniversary of her company, Upasana the Spirit of Dance.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Apt613: What is your relationship to dance in the Ottawa-Gatineau area and beyond?
I am a dancer and choreographer here in the Ottawa area. Since 1995, I have been working through Upasana the Spirit of Dance, which is a non-for-profit organization that includes a school, a professional dance company, and a presenter component. I am also the Artistic Director of Saveeta Sharma Dance and work as a freelance artist. My school has existed since 1995 and I present classical and contemporary Indian dance in the Ottawa area. I have also been working in the Toronto area as an educator and choreographer since 2006.
If you had to describe your work in five words, what words would you choose?
Devotion, provocative, powerful, beyond-imagination, creativity.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced in your work? Some rewarding moments?
When I came to Canada in 1990, at the very beginning of my career, and started teaching, it felt like artists were working in their own private spheres. I was all alone and it was very difficult. The challenge was a lack of support from every angle—from facilities to access to performance opportunities to administration and finances. Today, I am in a different position, because I stayed and I believed in what I did and received a lot of support from organizations and people who encouraged me. I still have students who started with me at the beginning, they have continued dancing. Many of my students have gotten grants to study in India, including Sonia St-Michel, who today is performing as a professional dance artist across Canada, and Gaurav Bhatti, who is currently working with Akram Khan.
“I love Ottawa, I love being here. I love supporting my city, this place that has given me a whole new artistic life. I am happy. I am not going anywhere.”
Today there are a lot more opportunities and awareness. The interest in learning and being part of something is there. There’s a lack of resources, yet what has come out of this has been artists learning to share and learn to create and come together, trying new ideas. I think today people are willing to work together more harmoniously. It took me 25 years to get here. I love Ottawa, I love being here. I love supporting my city, this place that has given me a whole new artistic life. I am happy. I am not going anywhere.
What would you like to see happen in the dance community?
What I’d like to see is more community members actively working together. More live connection with the work, more availability of space, theatres, rehearsal rooms. More support that brings artists together on a regular basis. For example, in 2018 I created a cross-Canada symposium for emerging Indian dance artists that was presented at the University of Ottawa’s theatre and was very well-received by the community.
What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from what’s around me and my experiences. Life, beauty. From experience itself. I grew up in Trinidad with a different rhythm, with steel bands and calypso and a different tempo. Different mannerisms. Those are things I reflect on. A lot of it comes from childhood. When I moved to India, I saw a different way of life that inspired me also.
To create, one has to have a very big imagination, open-mindedness and a “just do it” attitude. I like when my audience has a reaction. Then I know how they have perceived it, how they experienced it. I love creating unexpected work.