Dance performance may be Chowk's swan song

Pallavi In Time's performers include (from far left) Sandhya Suresh, Raka Maitra, Namaha Mazoomdar and Karishma Nair.
Pallavi In Time's performers include (from far left) Sandhya Suresh, Raka Maitra, Namaha Mazoomdar and Karishma Nair.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

Contemporary Indian dance company Chowk Productions' upcoming show at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, Pallavi In Time, might well be its last.

The company, founded in 2014 by artistic director Raka Maitra, received notice last Thursday that it would not receive sustained funding from the National Arts Council (NAC) from this year.

It has two other full-time employees besides Maitra, who dance as well as handle administrative work.

For the past three years, it had received $80,000 in funding a year as part of the council's Seed Grant scheme for new arts groups.

Its application for major company funding was denied. "This is our last show as a company supported by NAC. We will continue our work, but as independent artists," says Maitra of the 75-minute production on April 21 and 22.

Chowk is known for its contemporary productions grounded in odissi, an ancient form of Indian dance from Orissa, India.

Pallavi In Time is the second of what was meant to be a three-part series that explores the pallavi - a short pure dance item within the traditional odissi repertoire.

The first, Pallavi And Space, was staged in March last year. It focused on the use of space.

This time, Maitra is playing with the "tribhanga" in odissi or a bent "S" pose with three "breaks" in the body.

"I wanted to use just that stance to move and celebrate the pallavi," says Maitra, 46, who will be dancing in the piece alongside four others. "We're playing around more with the rhythm. We will be pushing our bodies. It will be faster."

At a rehearsal that The Straits Times caught last week at Chowk's studio - located in Emily Hill within the premises of the Intercultural Theatre Institute - the dancers twirled and stamped in rapid, heart-racing bursts.

The main dance item is about an hour long. It will be followed by a five- to seven-minute traditional pallavi piece at the end.

The dancers will be accompanied by two vocalists as well as a flautist and a percussionist playing a copper drum called the mizhavu.

Pallavi In Time is part of Esplanade's Raga series which showcases Indian performing arts.

This pallavi series is a departure from Maitra's usual work. She has been championing her signature contemporary take on the classical odissi form since 2007.

Last year, the company made its debut commission for Esplanade's da:ns festival, The Second Sunrise, which Maitra highlights as one of its achievements.

It also travels regularly and performed at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., last year.

But this return to the traditional form of odissi is important. "If you just do contemporary, there is a danger of losing the traditional form. It is important to keep the vocabulary. There is an audience for both," Maitra says.

She also says she enjoys choreographing this work, which is focused solely on the physicality of the dance, instead of having to focus on a particular story, which she would have to do with a contemporary piece.

"When we did The Second Sunrise, my dancers said they were depressed for a year," she says. That piece was based on the burning of the Jaffna library, one of the events in the Sri Lankan civil war.

For now, Maitra says she hopes Chowk's supporters will come out in full force for what might be the company's swan song.

She acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead, especially in looking for other sources of support. Chowk has a separate arm that conducts dance classes regularly, which Maitra says should still continue.

She says: "Artistically speaking, I don't think anybody can question us. That was our main focus. I don't know how the company can continue to operate. We are devastated."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2017, with the headline 'Dance performance may be Chowk's swan song'. Print Edition | Subscribe