By Rita Chahal
If Manitobans had to select a leader and contributor to the performing arts and cultural sector from Manitoba’s South Asian community it would have to be Pamela Rebello.
Since arriving in Manitoba in 1968 from Mumbai, India, Pam has had critical influence and impact on the quality and popularity of classical dance forms from India throughout the province. Almost four decades later, Pam continues to serve as the executive director and is the driving force behind the India School of Dance, Music and Theatre.
Recognized for her leadership and contributions to Manitoba’s arts and culture community, Pam was the first to receive the Order of Manitoba – the highest honor bestowed to a Manitoban – in its inaugural year, 2000.
Most recently, in January 2015, she accepted a lifetime achievement award from Dance Manitoba. During the introductory remarks at the award ceremony, former MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis said:
"Pam has devoted her life to working tirelessly, courageously, and honestly for excellence in dance, for cross-cultural understanding and for an inclusive and diverse arts scene in Manitoba. Central to Pam Rebello's unique and substantial contribution to our province is her understanding of the transformative power of the arts in building community, in overcoming the isolation facing new Canadians, and empowering the most vulnerable among us. She has advanced our thinking in three areas: excellence in the arts knows no ethno-cultural boundaries, meaning classical dance rooted in the traditions of India is no less significant than ballet with its origin in Italian Renaissance; recognition of diverse art forms and attracting mainstream audiences to multicultural events are matters of public policy, and performing arts hold not only intrinsic value but also the seeds for building civil society by offering healing and wellbeing, dissolving prejudices and misunderstandings and encouraging respect and dignity for all. The tenacity and courage to turn these ideas into action are the hallmarks of Pam Rebello.”
Asked about what drives her, Pam simply reflects and states, “The need to tell our stories and share our experiences on a Canadian stage we call home. To share with the tribes the strength of an artist’s soul on beauty, hope and goodness.” It is this need to share stories that has earned Pam numerous appointments on boards, advisory committees, accolades and awards, including the Canadian Governor Generals award.
Janet Stewart, a local CBC anchor, had a casual conversation with Pam at a gala dinner hosted by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The next day, Ms Stewart was quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press, “Maybe great ideas are Pam’s specialty. Pamela says most of her students are children of successful professionals. She’d like to expand her student base to include immigrant kids who live in the inner-city. This thought came to her as she watched her students perform at schools in the core area. The dancers visibly connected with the audience and Asian girls who had been shy, withdrawn, and slouched over instantly perked up. Seeing something familiar was now cool.”
Having served as President of the India School of Dance, Music and Theatre, I know from personal experience, that no child who wanted to learn classical dance or music was ever turned away due to finances. All Pam ever saw and needed was the desire for the child to learn and be part of something. “I want people in Manitoba to appreciate culturally diverse people as their neighbors, get to know them, deeper than the superficial level of song, music, dance, food and costume,” says Pam.
In 1982, Pam was part of a delegation that welcomed Mother Teresa to Winnipeg. While reflecting on her visit and having worked with Mother Teresa as a young woman in India, what Pam says she remembers the most are her few words, “she lived with deeds and words weren’t necessary.” Perhaps it is this deep-rooted understanding that makes Pam’s actions more powerful than just spoken words.
Referring to the recent reports on racism in Winnipeg, Pam reflected on how the performing arts can help break stereotypes:
“Education dispels ignorance, but arts literally breaks down barriers to overcome discrimination by reasoned policy and genuine interactions, generating a new found respect for others. The arts are for exploring different perspectives and revelling in a range of outcomes. It is through dance that we have come to realize that the entire spectrum of dance, representative of the changing demographics of Manitoba, are worthy of our attention. We must collaborate with organizations to ensure this is true. A lifetime award applauds aspirations and legacy, but it’s also a time to realize it is a gift to give and the opportunity to inspire, like sprinkling dust on an audience or the ability to empower youth and a whole generation to dream, to reach out to the creator and touch the stars, which is reward in itself – and Manitoba has been my stage for over 40 years.”
Watch the video "Pamela Rebello: The Artist Behind the Artist"