Dance with a green message

Dance theatre production Navodaya: Brink Of Hope by Shantha Ratii (above) combines classical Indian dance styles with spoken word, multimedia and music.
Dance theatre production Navodaya: Brink Of Hope by Shantha Ratii (above) combines classical Indian dance styles with spoken word, multimedia and music.PHOTO: SHANTHA RATII

Veteran dancer Shantha Ratii mixes classical Indian dance styles with multimedia to explore environmental themes

With her boundary-shattering dance theatre production Navodaya: Brink Of Hope, veteran dancer Shantha Ratii explores not just humanity's capacity to hurt the world, but also its ability to heal.

"The environmental problems that come about have been created by the way we're living our lives," says Shantha. "We have been seduced by wealth and comfort and, in the pursuit of that, we have created an imbalance in nature."

But man is armed with the imagination and ingenuity to solve these problems, "if only one could trigger the people into action".

Art - the language Shantha speaks best - is her way of inspiring people to tweak their lifestyles for the sake of the environment.

"Art is a gentle way of getting a message across to people," she says. "So as an artist, that is the only way I feel is very effective. If I were to give a lecture, we will look at statistics, which is great, but I think art can add a whole different dimension."

Shantha, who declines to give her age, has over four decades of dance experience. She tackles environmental issues in her show next month by combining the classical Indian dance styles she is well-versed in - kathakali, kuchipudi and bharatanatyam - with spoken word, multimedia and music.

  • BOOK IT / NAVODAYA: BRINK OF HOPE

  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: July 1 and 2, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $25 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

The sole dancer on stage, she will be accompanied by Vick Low on the cello and Saran Jith on the mizhavu, one of India's oldest percussion instruments.

Elements such as poetry and multimedia will come into play to help Shantha make her case.

"I've always felt that dance cannot argue. It can give you an aesthetic representation, but it cannot hold a discourse," she says. "If you add the spoken word to it, it empowers dance even more because it engages the audience at different levels."

This is her most ambitious venture yet, seeing her push the boundaries to get her message across - "not without trepidation".

She treads outside the box by bringing the cello into a performance that harks back largely to traditional Indian music and dance.

It was unfamiliar territory for cellist Low, who had to get used to the Indian music scale.

"It's like learning a new language," says the 26-year-old, who is more accustomed to styles such as jazz fusion and pop. "The scale was like a new vocabulary to me. I had to learn what notes to use and not to use to convey its character."

The promise of purpose appealed to Low, who is big on energy conservation and who laughingly admits to "preaching to people" about it.

"Most artists want to spread a strong message about issues, such as global warming, for example. So when Shantha first told me about her concept, I was very interested," says Low, who graduated from the Lasalle College of the Arts last year.

"It's the first big issue performance I'm tackling after graduation."

The show explores the themes of abundance - growing consumerism, for one thing - and deprivation, such as the struggles some parts of the world face in getting clean water.

But it is not, says Shantha, all doom and gloom. The show ends with a glimmer of hope.

"Everything will be okay because we are capable of finding solutions. The show brings you to the brink and then there is hope," she says.

She adds: "I'm like a farmer. I plant seeds and let them grow on their own because the human mind is fertile. If I can just create that awareness of what we as individuals can do, if even a handful of people start thinking a little differently, I think my purpose is fulfilled."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Dance with a green message'. Print Edition | Subscribe