A dramaturg is like a kaypoh friend

Artistic director of Raw Moves Ricky Sim and dramaturg and dance academic Nidya Shanthini Manokara (both seated).
Artistic director of Raw Moves Ricky Sim and dramaturg and dance academic Nidya Shanthini Manokara (both seated).ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Bharatanatyam dancer and dance academic Nidya Shanthini Manokara, 31, started her dramaturgy practice last year.

She was part of the Dramaturgy Apprenticeship Programme run by Centre 42 and was looking for a company to do her attachment with.

"I wanted to do something dance- based and not theatre-based because that was my interest. I was very interested in the way dramaturgy could be a useful way to understand the local dance scene," she says.

Incidentally, artistic director Ricky Sim of contemporary dance company Raw Moves, was looking for a dramaturg for his multidisciplinary project, Sounding Body.

The complex production, staged last May, involved not just dancers, but also a composer and instrument-system designer.

"We wanted to educate the audience about the art forms involved in such a collaboration that they might be new to. The dramaturg was a middle person that played this balancing act," says Sim, 47.

Shanthini produced seven books documenting the creative process of the work, including taking photos and recording videos of rehearsals.

She plays different roles based on the different needs of each production.

For example, for developmental platform RawGround last September, "I was like the kaypoh friend finding out what they wanted to say," says Shanthini of the young choreographers, who were also the company's dancers. Kaypoh is Hokkien for a busybody.

Sim values her contributions to the company so much that he has invited her to be its resident dramaturg this year.

He says: "She plays a very vital role in the company. For the company as a whole, every member is a lot more informed now because she brings in different perspectives to their work."

Shanthini credits this positive working relationship to their mutual trust for each other.

"The most important thing that books or other things can't teach you is the rapport that you need to build. That forms the basis of whether or not the collaboration can work on any level."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'A dramaturg is like a kaypoh friend'. Print Edition | Subscribe