By Vidhya Nair
Since April, Apsaras Arts team has participated, curated, hosted and contributed to several global and local virtual events. Here is a monthly round up of the past events and a quick update on the upcoming ones.
A Dance Tribute was created, dedicated to Healthcare and Frontline Workers who have been working tirelessly to keep humanity safe from the current COVID-19 Pandemic. This was choreographed by Apsaras Arts’ resident choreographer Mohanapriyan Thavarajah featuring the company Bharatanatyam dancers as a tribute using the motif of the Flute to depict that melodious music can only be produced from one’s healthy breath. The dancers conveyed their gratitude for being able to stay healthy and for caring for those who have fallen ill during this pandemic. This message resonated and highlighted the healing quality of classical Indian dance as this video came to be featured as the Number 1 stay at home activity to do in Singapore’s daily – the Straits Times.
Singapore has over 200,000 Indian and Bangladeshi workers living in dormitories across the island with many of them isolated with little to do to occupy themselves. Apsaras Arts joined a movement created on Facebook @Project Dorm where creative content is being beamed to all these workers on their mobile phones. Several dance performance videos featuring entertaining semi-classical Bharatanatyam and Kathak and meaningful Tamil poetry like “Suttum Vizhi” by Mahakavi Bharathiyaar for solace and reflection have been shared as many of these workers miss their families back home and are coping with mental anguish and anxieties for their continued employment in Singapore.
Apsaras Arts and Aalaap Concepts conceived and collaborated to create “TWOgether” which featured 6 pairs of young dancers, one from Singapore and another from India, working together on a specific theme and presenting a duo presentation. This series was streamed live daily from 29th April to 3rd May 2020 on Instagram channel of Aalaap Concepts. Each “live” performance enabled a split screen experience for the audiences to watch the interaction between two dancers over a 30 min presentation. The paired dancers , were unknown to each other, but worked seamlessly to showcase concepts like duality while dancing to Bhakti Sringaram role playing as Meera and Radha; using theatrical-storytelling to portray characters from Indian epics; dancing to the bols & chulukattus to highlight the value of time-keeping across dance forms. Each performance was a unique presentation and was a challenge for these young dancers, as they adapted to the use of technology, cleared off space at home and learnt how to engage with a live audience who is virtually invisible. This initiative has helped the dancers develop out of the box thinking and learn how to execute digitally within a limited time frame. Here is a video link of the dancers sharing their personal learning experience:
Samarpanaforartsandwellbeing has been running daily live performances with celebrated Indian Classical dance artistes. On April 30th, resident choreographer and principal dancer, Mohanapriyan Thavarajah was featured for an hour-long live performance. His program included a full-length performance that incorporates his signature technique with detailed storytelling and abhinaya. He presented three items and one of them was “Chinanchira Kiliye,” the famous love poem by Mahakavi Bharathiyar- where he explores the traditional relationship of a father with his daughter, highlighting key episodes of her development years culminating in her marriage and send-off. Priyan’s precise gestures draws attention to the nuances of the poetry which strike an unmistakable emotional chord with the rasika. Post-performance, Priyan shared his experience by saying, “Going live on this platform is actually not much different to a physical stage performance, I made my preparations in exactly the same way yet the spotlight seems even more through this medium because the audience feels closer to me. It’s an interesting kind of intimacy.”
In commemoration of International Dance Day, Aravinth Kumarasamy, Artistic Director of Apsaras Arts was invited to give a presentation on the role of costumes and set design in ensemble productions to a group of global attendees at the Milapfest, UK. In this session, he shared insights from “Angkor”, “Anjanejayam” and “Agathi”, three past Apsaras Arts productions. He described how bespoke sets were created and reused to depict a variety of scenes within a narrative and also the application of lighting techniques and digital mapping to create realism and build emotional connections with the audience. He also explained how the costumes were created with a blend of the aesthetics from the ancient kingdoms of Cambodia, Java and Bali through detailed research yet retained the fluidity needed to execute movement as prescribed within Bharatanatyam. This online presentation DANCE-A-THON was jointly organised by Sahapedia, Milap and #PuneCulturalMapping.
“Natya Katha”, an initiative of dance through story-telling was the brainchild of Mohanapriyan Thavarajah to engage his teenaged dancer-students to explore application of dance through through self initiated research. The topic given was- Hindu Demi-gods. The students were self motivated and used innovative presentations and storytelling techniques via a live-Zoom platform to share their presentations with other young students and teachers of Apsaras Arts. Stories on Nandi, Garuda, Suka Rishi, Narasimha, Kamdhenu, Ragu & Kethu were showcased. The students used multi-media, props, video animation alongside slide presentations and delivered their stories with conviction and detailed research. Several created interactive quizzes and even demonstrated dramatic sequences of their demi-god stories applying their Bharatnatyam learnings. The students appreciated the depth of learnings from these characters and the role of abhinaya within their Bharatnatyam practice.
On April 29th, in celebration of International Dance Day- 20 young Classical dancers were featured under the age of 30 from around the world. Mei Fei Soo, student of Mohanapriyan Thavarajah, was selected to be part of this prestigious series. Mei Fei presented “Thodaya Mangalam” an invocatory item on the morning and did put her best foot forward!