Review of Butterfly Lovers

A visual delight but not raising the bar, Swarnavarsha Gurumoorthy breaks down Butterfly Lovers for us…

Butterfly Lovers at Victoria theatre, co-presented by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre was a blend of tradition re-visited almost sixty years since it was first staged. Visualised by Santha Bhaskar in the year 1958 and re-envisaged by her daughter, Meenakshy Bhaskar in 2021, this version combined both the Chinese and Indian dance styles.

Dating from the Tang Dynasty, the Butterfly legend talks of Zhu Yingtai and Liang Shanbo, whose relationship is delayed when Zhu cross-dresses as a boy to enter school. This obstacle is removed; Zhu’s father arranges her marriage to a wealthy man. Learning of the news, Liang dies, with Zhu following in suicide. The duo is re-incarnated as loving butterflies. 

The first act set is a perfect ambience for this Chinese Romeo- Juliet with musician Neil Chua’s soulful performance on the ruan (a Chinese instrument). Within the performance, the set design is also crucial to bring the visual experience to the next level. The stage props such as the traditional Chinese lanterns in a few scenes and dangling creepers in others, successfully created an artistic conception for the audience. 

Another highlight was the three-dimensional effects in the background that further amplified the scenic beauty. In an effort to blend both styles, the dancers in traditional Chinese attires with salangais, attempted some “Indianized Chinese dance movements” which became repetitive after a point. 

There were some lively moments during Yingtai’s and Shanbo’s school years along with other scholars which engaged the audience and brought some laughter. Malini Bhaskar as Shanbo and her perfect chemistry with Sarenniya Ramathas as Yingtai reflected extensive years of them dancing together. Their apparent confidence in each other as dancers coupled with pirouettes added dynamism in contrast to the amateur supporting characters and dancers. 

he scene where Shanbo becomes an alcoholic was thoughtfully planned with only the ruan being played to the viraha portrayed by Malini Bhaskar. The choreography for the Thillana performed by the leading duo seemed to have a lot of packed adavus resulting in some unfinished movements. The musical score for this re-visit is by the renowned music composer Rajkumar Bharathi. This combination of alternating Chinese and Indian music hardly resonated with the theme and was ineffective in creating an emotional impact. The Tamil lyrics and dialogues in the presentation lacked depth in terms of poetry and the choice of words. 

To sum up, Butterfly Lovers was a delight to watch in terms of aesthetic stage settings, creative visuals and the dynamic lead duo in perfect unison with each other. While Sreejith Krishna’s Don Quixote that premiered in 2015 broke new ground in uniting Indian classical dances with contemporary performance and storytelling elements, this choreographic work of a Young Artist Award recipient missed out on setting high standards.

Review is by our young dance-critic-in-the-making, Swarnavarsha Gurumoorthy, recipient of Dr Sunil Kothari Dance Journalism Scholarship by Apsaras Arts.


The views and opinions expressed in this review are those of the reviewer and do not represent the views and opinions of Apsaras Arts Ltd. All rights reserved.

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