Esplanade's da:ns festival

Familiar names in da:ns festival

Recognisable names in dance will return to the Esplanade for next month's da:ns festival

Esplanade's da:ns festival will bring back several familiar names in the dance world to the Singapore stage from Oct 13 to 23.

These include big-name dance companies Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch from Germany and Batsheva Dance Company from Israel, as well as French-Cambodian choreographer Emmanuele Phuon.

Batsheva was part of da:ns festival in 2007, and Phuon in 2013.

The German dance company, named after its late artistic director, Pina Bausch (1940-2009), was last here 37 years ago.

Bausch's Nelken is a whimsical production with dark undertones involving dancers aged between 20 and 50, four dogs and four stuntmen. Created in 1982, it will be staged from Oct 13 to 16 at the Esplanade Theatre.

Batsheva will present Decadance, comprising excerpts from the company's repertoire under artistic director Ohad Naharin. The work will be staged at the Esplanade Theatre on Oct 21 and 22.

Of the repeat visits, Esplanade's producer (dance lead) Faith Tan says the arts centre believes "it is meaningful for our audiences to follow the progression of an artist's work from creation to creation and watch strong productions that are significant in the artist's career and the world of dance".

"Dance masters Pina Bausch and Ohad Naharin have made a deep impact in shaping dance, influencing countless artists and dancers, and touching audiences all over the world," she adds.

Bausch pioneered tanztheater or dance theatre - a form that involves a collection of sound and imagery, as well as speech and emotional honesty from its performers.

Says Adolphe Binder, the incoming artistic director of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: "Pina was a pioneer with a strong handwriting and voice. She changed the whole art form for many artists."

These include pop stars Lady Gaga and the late David Bowie.

Naharin is credited with inventing a body-aware dance language called gaga (no relation to the pop star), a style described by The New York Times as "distinguished by stunningly flexible limbs and spines, deeply grounded movement, explosive bursts and a vitality that grabs a viewer by the collar".

Besides works which have toured extensively around the world, da:ns festival also supports the creation of new works - such as Phuon's Brodal Serei (Freestyle Boxing) - which looks at the performative aspects and cultural nuances of Cambodian boxing.

It will be presented with Cambodian dance company Amrita Performing Arts, described by Tan as "one of the strongest contemporary dance companies in Asia". The performance will take place on Oct 22 and 23 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio.

Singapore artist Raka Maitra is also premiering a commissioned work, The Second Sunrise, on Oct 14 and 15, with her company, Chowk Productions.

Done in the company's signature contemporary odissi style (an ancient Indian dance from Orissa, India), the work is a response to Tamil poet Rudhramoorthy Cheran's poems about the Sri Lankan civil war. This is Chowk's first production in the festival.

"We have been part of contemporary dance festivals around the world, but in Singapore, we were always given the Indian dance platform," says Maitra.

"By getting this, it seems that my choreography and the form are being accepted as a part of mainstream contemporary work."

The Esplanade's da:ns festival is in its 11th edition. Like previous years, it comprises ticketed shows, free dance performances and classes.

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Moving tribute to Sri Lanka

The starting point for The Second Sunrise was the work of Tamil poet Rudhramoorthy Cheran, which dancer-choreographer Raka Maitra of Chowk Productions first encountered in 2011.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Oct 14 and 15, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $30 from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555)

In particular, she had read his book, You Cannot Turn Away, which features poems about the Sri Lankan civil war, oppression and loss.

"I was moved by his poems. They have a beautiful quality. They talk about war and atrocities, but are done beautifully. They are modern yet lyrical," she says.

For this work, Maitra, 45, references three of Cheran's poems, The Second Sunrise, My Land and A Plot Of Land.

The Second Sunrise was a particularly poignant poem for her as it depicted the burning of a library in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 1981. Maitra says: "To burn a library is like an erasure of culture. That imagery was strong for me."

The contemporary dance piece with the same name will be staged on Oct 14 and 15 as part of da:ns festival. It is a festival commission.

The one-hour work also involves Singapore artists Zai Kuning and Bani Haykal, who will perform the music live.

Like previous contemporary efforts by Chowk Productions, the work borrows from Odissi dance. Maitra and her three dancers are trained in the ancient Indian art form, which is from Orissa, India.

Chowk had done a work based on Cheran's poems, a 10-minute classical piece titled You Cannot Look Away, in 2014. However, that piece was about "internal emotions" and did not make any statements, she says.

She felt a need to work on The Second Sunrise as she uses the contemporary dance vocabulary "for the things I want to say".

But while the performance is meant as an offering of hope for Sri Lanka, she says the work is not specifically about it.

"For me, it's bigger - it's about people's feelings for their land and people looking for freedom. You see the erasure of culture at many levels. It's happening all around the world," she says.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'A focus on the familiar'. Print Edition | Subscribe