Dance of many stories

The fluid movements of the dancers complement the music well.
The fluid movements of the dancers complement the music well. PHOTO: CALEB MING

The Necessary Stage's latest play combines speech and classical bharatanatyam

REVIEW / THEATRE

GHOST WRITER

The Necessary Stage

Esplanade Theatre Studio/Thursday

The Necessary Stage's Ghost Writer is by design and method a work-in-progress. It combines text, sub-text and the physical metaphors of classical bharatanatyam in a reworking of the group's 2014 play Gitanjali (I feel the earth move).

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    WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio

    WHEN: 3pm and 8pm today, 3pm tomorrow

    ADMISSION: $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

The themes of Gitanjali and many of the same performers reappear in Ghost Writer, written by Haresh Sharma and directed by Alvin Tan, with dramaturgy by Charlene Rajendran.

Savitri (Sukania Venugopal), the head of a traditional dance school in India, loses her best student Priya (Ruby Jayaseelan) to Canada and her son and daughter-in-law to Singapore (Ebi Shankara and Sharda Harrison, who played similar roles in 2014). Their stories play out in speech and dance often related to the poems of the late Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

The production is a visual feast for the dance lover.

Dancer Jereh Leong reappears as Priya's love interest and Laotian choreographer Ole Khamchanla as Tagore, their grounded, fluid movements performed pleasingly to the bell-like live vocals of Namita Mehta and music by Bani Haykal.

The set design by Wong Chee Wai includes a long table that serves both the musicians and the dancers as an elevated stage. Movable rectangular box screens reflect or project meaning (multimedia by Brian Gothong Tan, lighting by Adrian Tan) depending on the need of the minute.

As a retelling of an earlier work (which itself was derived from another, even earlier production), Ghost Writer presents multiple narratives and unreliable narrators. It gives some characters a chance to tell their story while denying voices to others.

One of those silenced is Priya's love interest, played by Leong. He performs incredible feats such as the yogic crow pose or a controlled fall off the elevated stage in the background while other characters take the spotlight. His plight is meant to echo that of Tagore's sister-in-law, who killed herself and was his muse but never got to tell her own story.

There are too many stories to be told convincingly in the 70-minute runtime of Ghost Writer, though exceeding this is not recommended either. More storytelling might be condensed into the dance and physical theatre. After all, classical bharatanatyam dances often express Hindu myths and legends through movement.

The first third of Ghost Writer moves easily between this traditional style of dance and a traditional style of theatre. It is later, when the text becomes more open, that the switch from one genre to another jars. Naturally, a work of theatre about the act of creating narrative would leave gaps and spaces in the text for the audience to fill in themselves.

Unfortunately, this does not contrast well with the dance aspects of the production. For all the abandon of the performers, dance is a controlled, structured form. The next round of this pleasing work in progress might address this imbalance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Dance of many stories'. Print Edition | Subscribe