Dancing with a blindfold

Shahrin Johry plays Gandhari, a mother in search of her 100 sons who have gone to war.
Shahrin Johry plays Gandhari, a mother in search of her 100 sons who have gone to war.PHOTO: JEFF LOW, STYLE REVISITED

Home-grown dancer Shahrin Johry will not only play a female character in Maya Dance Theatre's upcoming show, Murmurs In The Wind, he will also be blindfolded.

"I have to rely on my sense of hearing. I don't know if, at some point, I'll be talking to the wall," says the 34-year-old with a laugh.

Thankfully, his fellow dancer, 23-year-old Nova Dian Saputra from Surabaya, Indonesia, will help him along by wearing bells on his feet as well as by singing.

Shahrin will be portraying a character from the Mahabharata, Gandhari, a mother in search of her 100 sons who have gone to war.

Saputra, Maya Dance Theatre's guest artist-in-residence, plays the elderly Vaayu, the god of wind who updates her of her sons' whereabouts and their subsequent deaths.

Audiences will be led through the space of the Singai Tamil Sangam, a community building in Serangoon, which is also where the dance company's office is based.

  • BOOK IT / MURMURS IN THE WIND

  • WHERE: Singai Tamil Sangam, 2 Kampong Kapor Road

    WHEN: July 1 and 2, 8 and 9.30pm daily

    ADMISSION: $25 from www.mayadancetheatre.org

The show is the first part of a three-year-long project titled Pancha, conceived by Imran Manaff, company manager of Maya Dance Theatre.

Pancha is the Sanskrit word for "elements".

There will be five productions in the series, with each iteration exploring one of these five elements - wind, fire, water, earth and aether.

Each production will also focus on a female archetype, such as Gandhari in the first show, which is centred on the theme of wind.

Murmurs In The Wind is co- choreographed by Maya Dance Theatre's artistic director Kavitha Krishnan as well as Indonesian choreographer Danang Pamungkas from Solo.

Says Krishnan, 44: "In casting Shahrin, I wasn't looking at gender. I was looking at experience."

Shahrin has been with Maya Dance Theatre for nine years. In contrast, dancers Eva Tey, Bernice Lee and Lavanya Dave, who play soldiers in the show, are newer members of the company.

However, Krishnan says the challenge for Shahrin is not being blindfolded or playing a woman, "but to also portray the character using the principles of bharatanatyam, using the form, facial expressions and gestures as well as contemporary bodily expressions".

Bharatanatyam is a form of Indian classical dance. The production will feature Javanese court and contemporary dance as well.

The show also incorporates live music, with musicians playing the flute, cello and violin to bring out elements of emotion and drama in the piece.

Next year's production of the Pancha series will focus on the element of water. Company dancer Tey will create a work revolving around the idea of foetal energy and the connection between mother and child.

In 2018, the company will work with New York-based choreographer Esme Boyce to present a work about French martyr, saint and military leader Joan Of Arc, referencing her death by fire.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Dancing with a blindfold'. Print Edition | Subscribe