Master Weaver of Magic

Raising a toast to Aravinth Kumarasamy, Artistic Director of Apsaras Arts, as he receives one of the most prestigious accolades for arts practitioners in Singapore – the Cultural Medallion…

In the first week of December, Apsaras Arts Artistic Director Aravinth Kumarasamy, the man who needs no introduction to the Indian performing arts world, who wears many hats, multi-talented and multi-tasker, who believes god is in the detail and whose singular commitment to dance and to the world of the arts has resulted in a collective upliftment of the creation, production and expression of the arts in terms of ideas, innovation, form, expression – raising the creative bar of dance across the world – was conferred Singapore’s prestigious Cultural Medallion for 2022 in a stately ceremony held at the Istana, the official residence of the President of Singapore.

From a recognition perspective, the Cultural Medallion – instituted in 1979 to recognise individuals whose artistic excellence, contribution and commitment to the arts has enriched and distinguished Singapore’s arts and cultural landscape – is unarguably the pinnacle accolade for arts practitioners in Singapore.

What makes receiving this award just extra special is the fact that more than 30 years ago, Apsaras Arts’ co-founder Smt Neila Sathyalingam, hailing from Sri Lanka, was conferred the same honour. Neila Maami, as she was fondly known in the world of the arts, continues to be celebrated for her commitment to building Apsaras into a premier dance academy for classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam, for cross-cultural works with Chinese and Malay dance forms and for showcasing Singapore’s multicultural personality around the world.

Hailing from Sri Lanka, in 1987, as a 21-year-old, Aravinth came to Singapore to pursue his dreams. Two decades later, Aravinth was hand-picked by Neila Maami to carry forward the rich legacy of Apsaras Arts that she had so fondly built. At that time, Aravinth was neck deep in the corporate world – managing a tech start-up with international employees across 15 countries. Aravinth took a massive pay cut and committed himself to the arts, to further realise Neila Maami’s vision.

For over three decades now, Aravinth has creatively, with a sense of commitment and conviction, envisaged and nurtured this art form with his imagination and ingenuity. His artistic philosophy stems from his pursuit to enable the Indian classical dance form Bharatanatyam, predominantly a solo art form, to transform into a fine and compelling ensemble-centric expression. His dream and desire to create, nourish and nurture a repertory company, a one-of-its-kind in Singapore and arguably across the world, in the space of Bharatanatyam.

As a Singapore brand for Indian classical dance ensemble work, inspired by South East Asian narratives, raises a toast to the potential and the possibilities of Bharatanatyam, presented at international festivals and venues, flying the Singapore flag high.

Much like the eclectic nature of his creations – to date, he has created and directed more than 35 original productions – that are diverse in form and content, Aravinth is a storehouse of many identities that inspire and influence each other. As an artiste par excellence himself, he is conscious of tradition but also cognizant of the dynamics of a rapidly changing global dynamics, where innovation and technology have vital roles to play. During the pandemic, Aravinth imagined and produced two digital CGI based one-of-a-kind dance films – SITA and AMARA – that pushed the creative envelope and have pioneered a way for a new possibility for the world of dance in exploring the digital space.

Apsaras Arts’ latest production is Arisi: Rice that premiered in December at the Esplanade in Singapore, this mammoth production – stunningly visual – is an ode to rice, and in terms of expression, is collaborative in form and spirit. Featuring traditional Balinese dancers and Singapore Chinese Orchestra musicians alongside Bharatanatyam dancers and Carnatic musicians, the work is a visual documentary on the history, heritage and narratives of rice and its traditions from across the world.

With a 360 degree vision for brand Apsaras Arts, Aravinth has championed industry development, and successfully curated and convened Indian Performing Arts Convention (IPAC) annually in Singapore since 2012 and in Australia since 2021.

He is the proud recipient of several awards including Singapore’s “Young Artiste Award” by NAC (1999), “Bharata Kala Mani” (Apsaras Arts 2000), “Aryabhata” (India 2016), MCCY Award (2017), “Kala Ratna” (Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society 2019), “Natya Kala Upasana” (Bhaskar’s Arts Academy 2019) to list a few.

Under his leadership, Apsaras Arts is possibly the most internationally travelled dance company in Singapore, regularly touring and presenting sell-out shows of original works in France, the UK, Australia, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka. Apsaras Arts dancers and musicians have toured to more than 40 countries, collaborating with leading dance companies, legendary dancers, choreographers, composers and presenters from the international Indian dance fraternity.

“I have been blessed to work with many young creative minds at Apsaras Arts, and this recognition will inspire our team to strive towards our vision for excellence. I hope our collaborators, partners and audiences will support this younger generation of Singaporean artists to pursue their passion in the arts, making Singapore stand proud on the global stage,” says Aravinth.

Aravinth Kumaraswamy also received the Kala Seva Bharathi award from Bharat Kalachar as part of their 34th Margazhi Mahotsav. This award was conferred to him on December 16, 2022 in Chennai, along with other artistes like Vani Jairam, Embar Kannan and Revathi Ramachandran.

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Devata: Guardians of Dance

BLK D Goodman Arts Centre

#01-24 90 Goodman Road Singapore 439053