Sold-out dance show comes to Singapore

Apsaras Arts' principal dancer and resident choreographer Mohanapriyan Thavarajah is the only male performer in Dances Of Divinity.
Apsaras Arts' principal dancer and resident choreographer Mohanapriyan Thavarajah is the only male performer in Dances Of Divinity.PHOTO: INNI SINGH

Following sold-out runs in several countries, Dances Of Divinity - an Indian classical dance production - will be showcased here for just one night.

Put on by Singapore traditional arts company Apsaras Arts, the show features the energetic dance form of Bharatanatyam, which originated in South India and is one of the oldest and most well-known dance styles in Indian culture.

Dancers perform with their knees bent and use their hand movements to convey emotions.

Since Dances Of Divinity's 2014 debut in India, the birthplace of Bharatanatyam dance, it has received overwhelming response abroad, selling out multiple runs not just in India, but also in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Australia and Britain.

Audiences here will also get a treat: the show features a male performer, a rare occurrence for the dance form which is commonly performed only by women. After all, it was first performed by devadasis - women who served in the temples and learnt classical Indian arts traditions.

Says Apsaras' principal dancer and resident choreographer Mohanapriyan Thavarajah, 26, who is the only male performer in the production: "The stories have many male characters and I'll try to bring out the masculine parts during my solo. I'll be doing some leaps and jumps that the women don't typically do."

The show, which has a cast of six dancers, is an attempt to explain why gods and goddesses in Indian mythology are often portrayed as dancers, says the company's artistic director Aravinth Kumarasamy, 50.

He adds: "We know Nataraja as the iconic Lord of Dance and that Krishna used to dance as a child. But why did they turn to dance? We try to make sense of it and unravel the stories behind the imagery."

Several narratives, developed by Kumarasamy after a year of research on the topic, will be presented through dance and accompanied by live music. Thavarajah was also roped in to help choreograph the pieces.

A short verbal explanation of the stories will also be delivered prior to the performances.

"People have asked us for that, so they can appreciate the show better," says Kumarasamy, who is Singaporean.

Dance critic Jill Sykes from Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald gave the show a positive review, noting how it has "a contemporary pace that adds fresh dynamics and excitement to an old art".

Kumarasamy says he was especially happy to stage the show in cities in his birthplace of Sri Lanka, such as Kandy and Batticaloa, which are slowly recovering from the effects of a long, bruising civil war.

"The venues were overflowing with people... and we were even filmed by the local television station," he recalls.

It was considered a strong reception, even for Apsaras, which has taken shows abroad many times.

Says Kumarasamy of staging it in Singapore: "We've been invited to perform it everywhere, we've gone to arts festivals abroad. In a way, this show is a homecoming for us."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Sold-out dance show comes to Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe