Dance of restrained sensuality

Rianto (left) and Sandhya Suresh navigate the theme of death in Closing Moments.
Rianto (left) and Sandhya Suresh navigate the theme of death in Closing Moments.PHOTO: SIDDHARTH SINHA ROY




White House @ Emily Hill

Last Saturday

Eager to showcase the young dance artists of Chowk, its artistic director Raka Maitra has paired Sandhya Suresh with renowned Japan-based Indonesian guest dance artist, Rianto.

A solemn air hung over the hour-long collaborative performance by Sandhya and Rianto. Titled Closing Moments, both artists dug deep into fragile personal spaces as they navigated the heavy theme of death.

Performing for a small audience in a room on the upper level of the White House at Emily Hill made the atmosphere all the more intimate. Upon entering, Sandhya and Rianto greeted each member of the audience by shaking their hands after which they went to a corner to kneel, waiting. It felt as though one had arrived at a funeral wake.

Then, to the hypnotic sound of a solitary drum and Bengali funeral songs, a dance awakened gradually within both performers as they began walking circular paths in opposing directions with glacially slow footsteps.

In these intricately measured steps, the beauty of Javanese dance styles and Odissi was witnessed. Focus was drawn to every last detail. There was a restrained sensuality as their feet gently padded on the wooden floor with each successive step.

The introspective nature of both dance forms was evident. Like two planets circling in their own orbits, each performer's focus was palpable. Occasionally, their orbits intersected. It was during these times that one could feel an electrifying surge of energy as their bodies came closer yet avoided contact.

Most of the performance unfolded as such - a series of meticulously choreographed alignments and misalignments, much like how the living grapple with something as complicated as death. The few moments of physical contact became so precious and even then, their eyes rarely met. It was almost as if they were connecting in different realms.

Ritual was another main element in the work. Water poured from a jar into a bowl of flowers made one think of being cleansed. Dancing beside, in front of and through doors evoked ideas of passage and time.

In the evening's most memorable gesture, Rianto threaded red string around the room and proceeded to loop the string through a door and out of the room before re-entering via another door with the spool of string in hand.

It was then that I realised that, by looping the string outside the room, he had symbolically bound interior and exterior spaces together.

If there was a technical critique to be made, it would be to encourage Sandhya to continue honing her fast-developing performative presence.

While she was evidently a strong performer, several slips in the focus of her gaze could be detected. This was made more apparent when performing alongside a more seasoned Rianto.

Nevertheless, she is a grounded and beautiful performer, her languorous and clear energy displaying the subtle elements of flow, flux and fluidity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Dance of restrained sensuality'. Print Edition | Subscribe