Super troupers wow in edgy old dance

Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (Singapore)/inDance (Canada)
Lee Foundation Theatre, Sunday

SINGAPORE - Four-hundred-year-old dance forms can be extremely edgy when presented by the well-known Bhaskar’s Arts Academy.

Sunday’s double bill was a collaboration with Toronto troupe inDance and is the first show since the academy’s founder K.P. Bhaskar died in April. It paid fitting tribute to his vision with faultless traditional bharatanatyam forms in Purnima/Full Moon as well as glossy contemporary routines in I, Cyclops. Both were choreographed and directed by inDance’s artistic director, Singapore-born Hari Krishnan.

Bhaskar’s Arts Academy first performed purnima/full moon in Singapore in 2011 and it is a jewel of a performance that deserves to be staged annually. A recreation of traditional 17th-century court performances from South India, it is a homage to the devadasis or female keepers of the art form whose celebrity rose and fell in a manner similar to that of Japanese geishas. Some of the songs and dances performed on Sunday have rarely been performed in public since the early 20th century because of new mores brought in by British colonists.

However, female vocalists Ampili Predeep and Arasakumari Nagaradjane unabashedly reclaimed the stage for their counterparts of yesteryear, singing powerful and joyously explicit songs of love and desire (these were translated into English for the audience by narrator Thava Rani Mohan and surtitles were also displayed on the multimedia background).

Between four and 10 female dancers from Singaporean and Canadian troupes translated the words into movement, expressing exquisite meaning through graceful hand gestures or mudras and eloquent eye movements.

The second part of the programme was a dramatic contrast that raised a few eyebrows.

For starters, the title I, Cyclops is partly a reference to choreographer Krishnan’s experience as an artist of Indian origin in Canada. To underscore the themes of alienation, the dance drew as often on mutant superhero Cyclops of the X-men comics as on bharatanatyam expressions or abhinaya. Several routines drew parallels to the comic character’s ability to shoot laser beams from his eyes and the similarly dangerous third eye of the Hindu god Shiva.

At one point, the Canadian dancers sported red comics-style eyewear, and when they took it off, stagelights momentarily blinded the audience.

While some devices were over the top, I, Cyclops worked surprisingly well on the whole. Three dancers from Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and seven from inDance mixed up contemporary Western and traditional Indian dance routines, playing off each other in fusion partnerships. Their abbreviated leather-and-spandex costumes showed off the sheer athletic power required to maintain beat-perfect abhinaya dance forms, which usually appear fluidly effortless beneath the covering folds of saris.

So perfect was their form that technical glitches such as a skipping, stuttering background music track only added to the sheer absurd beauty of what was playing out on stage. These were super troupers and this was an eye-opening evening.


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