Travel Diaries

Rice & Shine!

In this month’s Work in Process section, we bring to you ARISI: Rice, an Apsaras Arts and Esplanade Theatres on the Bay co-production, that talks about the physical as well as symbolic significance of rice in many Asian cultural and aesthetic practices. Read on to know more about the thought, process and making of this production.

Apsaras Arts presents ARISI: Rice, a cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary performance inspired by the grains of life, that links humanity across Asia. This work is inspired by the social, cultural and aesthetic practices borne by cultivation and consumption of rice in these regions. From birth celebrations to funeral rites, rice holds important physical as well as symbolic significance in many Asian cultures. This production has been worked across three countries – Singapore, India and Indonesia.

In a shift away from epic storytelling, award-winning Artistic Director, Aravinth Kumarasamy has imagined the dance production as a beautiful imagery that intersects stages of rice cultivation with gestural rites and rituals in life stages, where rice is the principal ingredient. It has had three years of thinking and research and has been in the making for more than 18 months.

In this production, dancers from Apsaras Arts share stage space with their traditional Balinese peers; the work also includes dance elements of the Balinese Kebyar Duduk, Kebyar, Legong and Joget Bumbung, choreographed by Professor I Wayan Dibia along with the company’s Resident Choreographer, Mohanapriyan Thavarajah. Together, they have re-imagined stories in the paddy fields and celebrate the life stages.

This new work has enabled Apsaras Arts to once again collaborate with some of the best creative minds from the industry – Dr Rajkumar Bharathi, its Music Composer, Sai Shravanam as its Music Producer, Director, Arranger and Sound Designer, Mohanapriyan Thavarajah as its Choreographer and Principal Dancer, and Costume Designer, Prof I Wayan Dibia, Balinese Choreographer and Principal Dancer, K Rajagopal, Filmmaker and Director, Gyan Dev Singh, Lighting Designer, Wong Chee Wai, Set Designer and Lim How Ngean as its Dramaturge.

The production involves musical collaborations with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra that melodically enhances the music score composed by Rajkumar Bharathi. Directed and produced by Sai Sharavanam, the production features an immersive soundscape created through live Chinese instruments (played by Singapore’s twenty five year old Chinese Orchestra) and leading award-winning Indian musicians such as Bombay Jayashri Ramnath, D Sathyaprakash, Naveen Iyer, Pratik Srivatsava and other eminent musicians. It additionally includes Balinese Gamelan and Kecak choric singing to echo and accent certain scenes.

Fabrics for the costumes are from indigenous sources from India, Bali and Indonesia and designs have been inspired by rice cultures across Asia. Mohanapriyan Thavarajah has painstakingly imagined the designs to give a contemporary twist to these dance costumes, yet keeping their heritage and cultural identities intact.

Script for the choreography has been adopted by various sources on rice cultivation and rice cultures. Dr Nanditha Krishna from Chennai, has been instrumental to share many insights into rice culture across India and Asia.

Additionally, for the first time ever, Aravinth Kumarasamy, Artistic Director, Apsaras Arts, collaborates with critically-acclaimed film director K Rajagopal, who contributes another powerful filmic layer of stories from former farmer migrants who now eke an existence in developing foreign lands. Filmmaker Rajagopal has followed some of these younger generations in Singapore and back to their rice fields in Thanjavur, South India to tell these stories which are thought provoking in appreciating the big question of our lifetime – sustainability of Rice farming!

ARISI: Rice will premiere on November 25- November 26, 2022 as part of the Kalaa Utsavam, Indian Festival of Arts 2022 at the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, Singapore

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