CanAsian Dance Festival was formed in 1997 in the final days of Toronto’s Asian Heritage Month Festival by members of its Dance Committee. At a time when Asian dance was rarely presented outside of their discrete cultural communities in Canada, we seized the opportunity to support and present dance from diverse Asian practices, ideas and diasporic experiences, as well as dance artists creating original works. The ways we have done this has evolved over the years as we respond to changing societal conditions and continue to serve our community.
Over our first 18 years, CanAsian presented 11 international Festivals featuring outstanding local, national and international artists, held workshops for over 500 artists in the community; and commissioned new works from 27 Canadian-based artists. Artists presented in our programming have garnered 14 Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations.
For non-Festival years, we developed special programmes. Transformations: Exploring Gender Roles in Asian Dance, was curated by Peter Chin in 2005 with artists from India, Indonesia, Japan and China. With Museum Dances, in 2010 partnership with the Royal Ontario Museum, we commissioned site-specific works by four Canadian choreographers, each re-interpreting an artifact from the ROM collections.
Our main event was renamed CanAsian International Dance Festival in 2007 to reflect the global sources of our programming, However, as the quality of the international work rose, it also became increasingly difficult to include local and emerging choreographers, whose work was often under-resourced.
To address this issue, in 2012 we created a new off-year Festival programme called KickStart, to support and encourage the development of choreographers and their choreography through commissions, dramaturgy, presentation and attention to their work’s touring potential.
By 2014, we became convinced of the importance of prioritizing our attention and resources to nourish local and Canadian-based artists rather than international guest artists who came and went without significant lasting impact on the community. Refocusing on expanding KickStart, we wound down the CanAsian International Festival with a final show in 2015.
With KickStart now at the centre of our activities, we have developed further initiatives to support choreographers to create new work. In 2021 we introduced GRIT: Short Dances, a biennial project in which we commission very short dance creations and support them with community, dramaturgy and production. This programme will run in the years between KickStart, seeding new works that will eventually find their way onto the KickStart stage.
Founding Members: Denise Fujiwara, Sudha T. Khandwani, Allen Kaeja, Jahanara Akhalaq, Menaka Thakkar, Jennifer Watkins, Carly Wong
Past Board Members: David Gonzalez, Sam Chaiton, Joanna de Souza, Menon Dwarka, Chan Hon Goh, Allen Kaeja, Hari Krishnan, William Lau, Susan Lee, Abhishek Mathur, Ursula Nahatchewitz, Kristina (Tina) Park, Noora Sagarawala, Eve Schifman, Gary Tai, Carly Wong, Anne Yourt