Upcoming dance shows

Bridging cultures

The cross-cultural cast of Brihannala - Arjuna's Disguise includes (from left) Biju S. as Keechaka, Nam Narim as Urvashi, Malini Bhaskar as Brihannala and Sophal as Arjuna.
The cross-cultural cast of Brihannala - Arjuna's Disguise includes (from left) Biju S. as Keechaka, Nam Narim as Urvashi, Malini Bhaskar as Brihannala and Sophal as Arjuna.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Home-grown Bhaskar's Arts Academy partners a Cambodian dance group for a performance about the exile of five brothers

Indian dance school Bhaskar's Arts Academy will be moving away from convention to collaborate with a Cambodian dance group to perform a lesser-known episode from the Hindu epic text Mahabharata.

Brihannala - Arjuna's Disguise will feature two performers from Amrita Performing Arts of Cambodia.

They join the 11-person team from Singapore to showcase the story through the dance aesthetics of bharatanatyam, kathakali and Cambodian dance.

The show, which is narrated in English and choreographed by Bhaskar's Arts Academy's artistic director Santha Bhaskar, describes the events during the final year of a 13-year exile of five brothers, known collectively as the Pandavas.

It will be performed at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on Sunday.

For Mrs Bhaskar, 78, it was particularly exciting to integrate Cambodian dance into the story-telling, which she describes as much "gentler" compared with the faster and more dynamic movements in bharatanatyam.

"For us, this is a great collaboration because Cambodian dance has a flavour of Indian dance which can be seen in its movements and hand gestures. There is a thread connecting both cultures.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Sunday, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $30 from www.bhaskarsartsacademy.com

"I have in the past collaborated with Javanese and Balinese dancers, but this is the first time I am working with Cambodian dancers," she says.

The collaboration stemmed from the first time representatives from the two dance companies met at an event in Thailand three years ago.

The period explored in the production is when the Pandavas were directed by the Kauravas - their arch-rivals - to remain incognito. Should they have been recognised, the Pandavas risked spending another 12 years in exile.

To stay hidden, each brother assumes a variety of disguises and the production hones in on that of master warrior Arjuna, who takes an unexpected role as a dance master and eunuch, Brihannala.

It was a disguise he was able to live up to successfully - he was cursed to be a eunuch for one year, during which he turned down the advances of Urvashi, a heavenly maiden.

Mrs Bhaskar says the production is particularly special because it covers a range of rarely explored dualities, such as Arjuna's year in disguise as a eunuch being both a curse and a boon for him.

It also explores the concept of the "third gender" known as the Tritiya Prakriti - the idea that a person could have a combination of both the male and female characteristics, yet at the same time be neither one.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'Bridging cultures'. Print Edition | Subscribe