Stirring take on epic tale

Dian Nova Saputra (far left) and Shahrin Johry in Murmurs In The Wind.
Dian Nova Saputra (far left) and Shahrin Johry in Murmurs In The Wind.PHOTO: CHEN YITONG

REVIEW / DANCE

PANCHA: MURMURS IN THE WIND

Maya Dance Theatre

Singai Tamil Sangam/Last Friday

Little India on a Friday night is an assault on the senses. Its lights shine bright and the air is heavy with the smell of spices.

Yet there is a quiet haven in the middle of all this buzz - the unremarkable white building that houses Singai Tamil Sangam, a Tamil volunteer organisation that has been home to Maya Dance Theatre for the past nine years.

It is here that the first instalment of its elemental five-part dance series Pancha is performed. It is the company's elegy to the space which it is about to move out of.

Murmurs In The Wind is inspired by the story of Gandhari from the Hindu epic Mahabharata, a woman bound and blinded by love who chooses to forgo her sight upon being betrothed to a man born blind.

With Vaayu, the Lord of the Wind, as her eyes, she awaits news from the front lines of a war where her hundred sons are engaged in battle.

The dance distils the sprawling tale to its essence of love, courage and grief and it provides room for the characters to be portrayed with nuance.

The work opens with Gandhari's three remaining sons at a shrine set up in the building's courtyard where candles are lit in vigil. The sound of bare feet stamping on concrete ground is the emphatic battle cry of the company's female dancers, who are redolent of the heroines in the works of Martha Graham, grand dame of modern dance.

The harrowing jaws of war eventually close in on these last warriors and they crumple in exhaustion and defeat.

Vaayu plants his feet widely in an assertive stance, but his trembling torso barely contains his despair at the tragedy he has witnessed.

Dian Nova Saputra is remarkable in this role, simultaneously evoking both calm and forceful power.

The dance then moves to the main hall of the building, which is transformed by Alberta Wileo's evocative lighting and the stirring melodies of Kailin Yong's music.

Shahrin Johry brings the emotionally fragile mother to life. She recalls memories of playing with her children when they were young and she bolts up in fear when gripped by the gloomy reality of loss.

When Vaayu arrives to convey the news, Gandhari seems to already know. To the fluctuating tones of the Indian bamboo flute, the pair sweeps across the space with arms flailing and heads thrown back. This is where the otherwise compelling production overdoses on melodrama.

But this sentiment dissipates when the performance ends and the audience walks out into the courtyard to see a separate and equally captive audience watching from behind the fence around the building.

Some of Little India had been drawn to the building and gathered to watch.

Maya Dance Theatre has certainly enriched the area it has called home, with sights and sounds that are larger than life.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2016, with the headline 'Stirring take on epic tale'. Print Edition | Subscribe