Dance's sheer coincidence



Chowk Productions

Esplanade Theatre Studio/ Last Friday

In From Another Land, Raka Maitra's Chowk Productions has chosen to take on an issue that was a hot topic at election rallies last week - that of the migrant worker.

Dancer Raka Maitra. PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

The two-year-old company's latest offering seeks to explore the experience of Bangladeshi migrants working in Singapore through a performance of contemporary Indian dance set to selected poems written by two Bangladeshi workers in Singapore, Rajib Shil Jibon and Zakir Hussain Khokon.

Somewhat befittingly and through sheer coincidence, From Another Land enjoyed its premiere on Polling Day. The set leaves the viewer in no doubt what the performance is about: simple structures reminiscent of bamboo scaffolding and anchored by cement blocks encircle the stage; a yellow construction hat sits atop a bench and a pair of black rubber boots are on the ground next to it.

The poets themselves, Rajib and Zakir, feature in the production. It can be a risky move, as good writers do not always good actors make, but they deliver commendable performances and it is a treat to hear the poets themselves speak their material.

The dancers, led by the Odissi- trained Maitra, bring life to these imaginings, shifting seamlessly between mythical creatures and memories. They are beautiful to watch, their movements deliciously controlled, graceful and sensuous, belying the strength that this dance form demands.

The brightly clad women take centre stage for the most part and the poets are often relegated to the background or hidden in the shadows. They sometimes seemed to be observers to the proceedings, like the rest of the viewers, rather than participants.

The poems are delivered in Bengali (by the poets themselves) as well as English at times (via a voiceover), with English translations of the poems provided in the programme notes.

For the non-Bengali-speaking viewer, it was hard to fully connect to an abstract performance when the delivery of verses in a language one does not understand was integral to the performance. The irony of feeling Othered in a show about people's experiences with Othering was not lost on this reviewer.

The production's nobility of purpose makes one reluctant to find fault with it. But while the company delivers a compelling performance, it does not quite reach the emotional depths one hoped it should.

From Another Land's purpose is to neither pity migrant workers nor place them on a pedestal, but simply to herald them for being as human as the rest of us.

It is a timely reminder, but feelings of loneliness and longing are what anyone who has lived away from their homeland for an extended period of time - albeit under less trying circumstances - can relate to. This work feels more like a glimpse into the fantastical worlds of a stranger's mind, instead of a shared experience to be empathised with.

•Tan Li Min is a law graduate who designs balletwear and writes about dance at Cloud & Victory (

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Dance's sheer coincidence'. Print Edition | Subscribe