Travel Diaries

Epic Memories!

… reminisce about their trip to Ayodhya in March, which transformed many dancers from Apsaras Arts and how this experience would go on to remain special in the hearts of these dancers waiting to take on life… 

On March 29 2023, 11 young dancers from Apsaras Arts, under the guidance of our Academy Principal Vijaya Nadesan, took almost a 12-hour journey to reach Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama in Uttar Pradesh, India to perform Bharatanatyam-based repertoires in a festival. The festival was organized by the local government on the occasion of Ram Navami (a Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama).

The initial idea of traveling to Ayodhya and performing came as an exciting proposition to our young dancers. Their first thought most likely was, who would they be sitting next to in the airplane when they travel. Most of the dancers are young, around the age of 11 to 13 years and traveling with their friends for the first time. They were mostly born and brought up in Singapore with minimal exposure to India and none to remote parts of India.

It was a big deal that they were representing not only Apsaras Arts but Apsaras Arts from Singapore. In other words, not just the academy they learn at, but the country they live in. However, the gravity of this incredible opportunity required the maturity of the mind to comprehend. 

The lead-up to the trip involved an intense practice schedule, preparation of costumes, jewelry selection, travel plans, hotel accommodations, local transport planning and a lot more. The Apsaras Arts team managed everything impeccably and patiently. A lot of the parents chimed in to support and traveled along with the group too. 

After all the preparation, the journey to Ayodhya began just past midnight at Singapore Changi Airport. It was no doubt a long journey ahead, but the brimming excitement of our young dancers didn’t let anyone fade with fatigue. Charles Dicken rightly said, “To a young heart everything is fun.” 

The Apsaras team reached Ayodhya at midday IST on the same day and were welcomed by an army of monkeys surrounding the hotel and to a lovely lunch spread organized by the local organizer. After a bit of rest and refreshment, we got down to practice, costume, and jewelry distribution to the respective dancers, and of course, the young dancers were seen running into each other’s room and having a blast, just the way they had imagined.

In the evening we were fortunate to visit some temples in the vicinity and experience the essence of Ayodhya. 

Our young dancers were intrigued and filled with curiosity to see the old architecture of the town; the faith demonstrated by people who would walk barefoot for long distances to visit the temples. The large piles of vermilion in different shades of red and orange grabbed everyone’s attention and interest. All this was foreign to the eyes of our dancers. It was the first time they were making a connection between what they heard about Lord Rama in stories and how that was made tangible by numerous activities conducted on the foundation of faith. We would hear our young dancers say things like, “Oh, really lord Rama was born here, I thought it was just a fictional story until I got here.” 

In the next few days, we had the opportunity to see our young dancers dance on a stage along with dancers from Indonesia and listen to some very famous local vocal artistes. The entire program was thematically designed to celebrate Ram Navami. Every song and dance were in praise of Lord Rama. The audience comprised local community members who demonstrated their devotion by singing and dancing along with the performers.  

There were numerous maiden experiences for our young dancers like listening to a program being conducted in Hindi, a language foreign to them; having an audience that doesn’t usually watch Bharatanatyam, but they charmed them with their expressions and dancing ability. Being a performer with performers from various other countries and learning to respect cross-cultural art forms was a huge learning experience.

Our dancers performed for two nights and on one of the nights, we took a walk along the famous Sarayu river. As the dancers walked along the river, some parents and Apsaras faculty members told them the story behind the river. As per the legend Lord Shree Ram walked deep into the Sarayu River and disappeared after completion of all action as the seventh incarnation. Their love for the narration was evident in the fact that many walked into the river to dip their toes and experience a little bit of what Lord Rama had experienced.

 And just like that our four-day schedule wrapped with memories for life. 

When our dancers left Singapore, all that occupied their minds was bonding with friends; but on the 24 hours long journey back (this time we had a longer transit) the conversation had transformed into the experiences they had lived. Many of our young dancers talked about the temples, the faith, devotees, the significance of rituals, and the fact that the monkey army is not fictional after all. 

The trip certainly transformed our dancer’s worldview. And we have no doubt that the richness of this experience will surface in their dance in time to come.

Because that is what a real-life experience does, it transforms you forever.

Review of Parama Padam in Sydney 

Mohanapriyan Thavaraja’s dance production Parama padam is a profound integration of art, philosophy and the human condition  

For Mohanapriyan Thavarajah of Apsara Arts Dance Company, Singapore, dance is a quest, his artistry a constant search for things that reflect the reality of this world.In this journey, the production Parama Padam staged at the Riverside Theatres in early April, in collaboration with Shivam School of Dance, Mohanapriyan’s exploration of a game of Snakes and Ladders on stage was a metaphorical representation of a soul’s goal to reach the 100th square, or moksha.This performance was not merely a visual spectacle but a thought-provoking experience, a profound integration of art, life and philosophy.The soul in search of liberation plays the live game of snakes and ladders, without leaving the board for 60 whole minutes. It makes choices, good and bad, climbs with each virtuous deed, and falls with every depravity. The audience sit on the edge of their seats as the protagonist manoeuvres his way through the squares of the game, artfully presented through lighting design by Gyan Dev Singh. The soul is confused as to why some people in his knowledge have achieved the feet of the Lord, when he struggles to get through the 7th door which will lead to enlightenment, breaking the cycle of birth and death.The combination of technical precision and emotional depth of Mohanapriyan enhances the storytelling and brings the narrative to life.

Be it the intimate moment when Saint Thyagaraja realises that he has just had a divine visitation from Rama, Seetha and Lakshmana in his humble home, or the deep seated devotion of Tukaram represented through the blissful chanting of the name of Vittala, or the majestic procession on an elephant danced to a Mallari in the story of Periyalvar, Mohanapriyan created magic through every nuanced expression of body, mind and soul.The two contrasting characters of Mirabai and Ravana, both powerful in their own right but deeply impacted by their choices of vice and virtue, was a layer that got the audience reflecting on their own life choices. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that one could hear the whirring of the tumultuous thoughts of each individual in the audience, reflecting on their particular choices. The air was electric with the tension of what was happening on stage, sparking a response in each of us.Artistic director of Apsara Arts, Aravinth Kumarasamy introduced the presentation with the origins of the board game of Parama Padam, and the creative process which added context. He also acknowledged stalwarts in the field of art, Priyadarshini Govind (artistic mentor); Lin How Ngean (dramaturg); Dr. Rajkumar Bharathi (music composition), and Gyan Dev Singh (light design), who enriched this production with their contribution.Mohanapriyan proclaimed, “In our world of globalisation and modernity, we need to create opportunities to look back to our roots, which will take the audience on a journey of learning.” This intent was achieved without doubt, as the audience walked away with a soul-searching experience, a meaningful interaction with art and each wondering how they could reach the 100th square in their own lives. This was the spellbinding allure of Parama Padam.

Speaking to Mohanapriyan about this unique concept and creative approach, it came to light that his art is made relevant as it stems from the deep roots of spirituality and is shaped by social interactions with his environment. “I was deeply involved in temples and rituals as a young boy, and song and dance became a part of my expression,” Mohanapriyan revealed. “Learning dance formally came later when I realised that the art form not merely gave me joy, but a chance to express myself.”He also saw the power of art as a source of healing when he worked with communities during challenging times such as the Tsunami (2004). “With very little food to eat and no roof above their heads, a few moments spent with dance brought a smile to the faces of those that suffered,” recalled Mohanapriyan.This sparked his understanding that art cannot live in isolation but has to be made relevant and at the same time used for a greater purpose. Mohanapriyan believes in learning from every person that he meets in life, and this talks volumes of his sensitivity and humility which makes his art so accessible.The presentation by Shivam School of Dance under the guidance of Saipriya Rahulan, especially the Endaro Mahanubhavulu, a gem of Saint Thyagaraja’s Pancharatnam, was a captivating and fitting prelude to the exquisite main act of Parama Padam. Engaging choreography, thoughtfully designed costumes and dancers moving gracefully in perfect synchronisation made it an immersive experience for all. Shivam School of Dance

The evening was a multi-dimensional experience, taking us on a metaphorical journey which was both eloquent and exceptional.

Stay on the beat

You have been successfully Subscribed! Ops! Something went wrong, please try again.

Supported by

Devata: Guardians of Dance

BLK D Goodman Arts Centre

#01-24 90 Goodman Road Singapore 439053