Dance for the Royalty
By Seema Hari Kumar
“It is not very often that you get to perform before royalty and, that being a piece that brings to life the artwork of their ancestor, makes it more than just a ceremonial treat! This is exactly how I would sum up my experience of having performed at the inaugural Ladies’ International Symposium organised by the All-Malaysia Malayalee Association (AMMA) in Kuala Lumpur in August 2016.”
It is always exciting to get an invitation to perform in Malaysia because despite being the closest neighbour, the number of times a Singapore-based dance company like us performs there, are fewer than several other countries on the map. So when this invitation came to Apsaras Arts, I was really happy to be selected as part of the very small cast that was going.
I recall Aravinth anna reading out the invitation and their request for us to feature segments from our production entitled “Heroines of Raja Ravi Varma” which first premiered at the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay in 2012.
Its naissance was vividly etched in my mind – there were countless meetings in which Aravinth anna would bring the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma to show Maami and she would excitedly put on her reading glasses to scrutinise every detail of accessory, hairdo, makeup and fabric that the painted heroine adorned to make notes for requisition. Perhaps it was the care that both of them took to breathe live to these timeless works of art, through the music and carefully picked lyrics right up to the costuming detail, that made this a popular request by several organisers in the years that followed.
We re-staged segments from this production subsequently on different occasions but what struck me was the nature of these invitations. It could not have been pure coincidence that all the prosceniums that presented the “Heroines of Raja Ravi Varma” espoused class and were for an audience that were steeped in art appreciation.
Fast forward to this event in 2016, it bore semblance to these occasions in which the production was re-presented. This time it was even more special because we were to perform the highlights of the “Heroines of Raja Ravi Varma” before Her Royal Highness, Princess of Travancore, Kerala, Princess Aswathy Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bayi who was presiding the Ladies International Symposium. This was reason enough for me to leave my then 2-yr-old Deeksha home for the first time since her birth, on this two-night getaway to don my role as “Radha” in the production!
The decision went unregretted because we had the opportunity to meet the princess up close on the day we arrived, where we had the great privilege of having lunch with her. We watched her quizzing Aravinth anna on the conceptual journey of how her grandfather’s works were brought to life through music and dance.
Her unassuming personality and grounded nature were extremely humbling. I went back to the hotel room dreamily getting ready for that evening’s showcase and as the curtains went up, seeing the Princess Gowri amma in the first row first gave me a jolt of anxiety. As the performance progressed, I couldn’t help notice how her eyes lit up in appreciation when I struck the pose that her grandfather had so beautifully brushed into a painting.
And just like a fairy tale, we had a happy ending to that event each one of us wistfully looking forward to the next special moment that the hero behind these beautiful heroines would bring us!