Coping with death through dance

Dancers Sandhya Suresh (left) and Rianto working on Closing Moments.
Dancers Sandhya Suresh (left) and Rianto working on Closing Moments.PHOTO: CHOWK PRODUCTIONS

Death and the rituals of those left behind are the themes of nine- year-old dance company Chowk's latest production, Closing Moments.

Encouraged by Chowk's artistic director Raka Maitra, 45, company dancer Sandhya Suresh was interested in exploring the idea of loss after someone close to her died three years ago.

Suresh, 26, says: "There is this deep part of you that you don't really want to acknowledge, those deeper emotions, that I felt that I could explore through movement rather than through words."

Closing Moments is a duet between Suresh and Japan-based Indonesian dancer, Rianto.

Running for between 50 minutes and an hour, it will be performed at the White House at Emily Hill on Friday and Saturday.

The theme of loss is also resonant with 35-year-old Rianto.

Two weeks before he came to Singapore in May to work on the piece with Suresh, his father died at the age of 61.

He says: "The work is meaningful to me because I get to express through dance all of my feelings about my father - the pain, imbalance and uncontrolled reaction in the body and within myself in response to the situation."

Suresh recalls of her co- collaborator's demeanour at rehearsals: "He was so heavy- hearted. He had so much to say and so much to feel."

The piece also deals with rituals of death - not physical rituals or last rites, but how people who are left behind deal with grief and process their thoughts after losing someone.

The show is staged at the White House at Emily Hill to enable the audience to be closer to the two dancers.

Each performance is limited to an audience of 50.

This is the first time Suresh is performing with Rianto. She had seen him dance in 2013 in SoftMachine, a piece conceptualised by artist Choy Ka Fai, and she recalls being "blown away" by his talent.

Rianto is trained in Javanese dance, though he performs and choreographs contemporary pieces as well.

Similarly, Suresh is traditionally trained, having 21 years of Indian classical dance training under her belt.

The piece has no fixed genre, but Suresh says they will use the vocabulary they have been trained with to express their emotions.

The duo will be accompanied by two vocalists, one of whom will also double as a drummer.

"During rehearsals, Rianto played Javanese music which sounded quite ritualistic.

"The musicians will follow the feel of that - one of them will speak gibberish really fast, but it sounds like a mantra, and the other will sing over that," says Suresh.

"It's like the difference between the soul and people who are left behind. The person who is gone is still there in a spiritual way."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2016, with the headline 'Coping with death through dance'. Print Edition | Subscribe