Fiery meeting of two heroines

Eva Tey (far left) and Bernice Lee in Pancha - When The Flames Blaze The Caged Body, I Surrender My Soul, I Am....
Eva Tey (far left) and Bernice Lee in Pancha - When The Flames Blaze The Caged Body, I Surrender My Soul, I Am....PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Hindu goddess Sita meets Joan of Arc in Maya Dance Theatre's latest production

What would happen when two strong heroines from different cultures - French heroine Joan of Arc and Hindu goddess Sita - meet?

That is what Maya Dance Theatre is exploring in its latest production, titled Pancha - When The Flames Blaze The Caged Body, I Surrender My Soul, I Am....

Joan of Arc led her country in a war in the 15th century and ended up being burnt at the stake by the English. Sita, from the epic Indian poem Ramayana, was made to go through a trial by fire to prove her chastity to her husband.

In the production - which is roughly 50 minutes long and will be staged at Emily Hill on June 1 and 2 - the women are brought together by the element of fire.

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Kavitha Krishnan, 45, Maya Dance Theatre's artistic director, says: "The show explores what would happen if these two characters meet. How would they offer support to each other and surface their strengths?"

Company dancers Bernice Lee and Shahrin Johry will portray Joan of Arc and Sita respectively. A third dancer, Eva Tey, will play the metaphorical third character of fire. There will be live vocals supplied by Indonesian musician Peni Candrarini, and Singapore artist Kailin Yong will play the violin.

  • BOOK IT / PANCHA - WHEN THE FLAMES BLAZE THE CAGED BODY, I SURRENDER MY SOUL, I AM...

  • WHERE: Emily Hill, Level 2, 11 Upper Wilkie Road

    WHEN: June 1 and 2, 7.30 and 9.15pm

    ADMISSION: $32, or $25 each for a group of five or more (go to pancha2017.peatix.com)

    INFO: www.facebook.com/MDTsg

The show is the second edition of the company's Pancha series. Each instalment explores one of five elements - wind, fire, water, earth and aether. Pancha is the Sanskrit word for elements.

The first edition, staged last year, revolved around the theme of wind.

This year's show blends elements of contemporary and bharatanat- yam dance.

Krishnan worked with co-choreographer Esme Boyce, who hails from New York, to "make Joan more centric to Maya's expression". Maya Dance Theatre is known for its Asian traditional dance influences.

Lee's movements as Joan of Arc while conveying power and firmness, were made more grounded, with shapes taken from the bharatanatyam framework.

For example, what looks like a clenched fist is known as the mushti, a type of hand gesture.

Boyce, 30, also worked with the company last year for its annual choreographic platform, Release.

"Esme has a sensibility of the Asian body and she enjoys the bharatanatyam language," says Krishnan.

The other collaborators in the show are dramaturg Nirmala Seshadri, who also conducted bharatanatyam training for the dancers, and visual artist Muhammad Izdi, who is designing the set.

In finding their characters, the dancers thought about how they could relate to them.

For example, Tey's portrayal of fire was rooted in what "fire would say to them today" if it could speak.

"She felt that fire would say sorry to the two women," says Krishnan.

Shahrin, 35, read that Sita would often express her opinions to her husband, Rama, and was not as submissive as some people believe.

He says: "It relates to my own character - if I don't agree with something and it goes against my principles, I will voice it out."

Lee, 30, saw parallels between the harsh treatment Joan received - she was punished for believing that she could see visions - and persecution that happens today.

"I'm making use of the extremes of whatever we experience today and amplifying that to try to see where she is coming from," she says.

For Krishnan, the varied layers of the different art forms and interpretations of the characters help enrich the production.

She says: "It's not just about taking movement from two dance types and putting them together. It's a total composition of sound, movement, concept, visuals and live music."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2017, with the headline 'Fiery meeting of two heroines'. Print Edition | Subscribe