Off Stage

Exploring the migrants' world through dance

Dancer Raka Maitra will perform From Another Land, which showcases snippets of poems written by migrant workers.
Dancer Raka Maitra will perform From Another Land, which showcases snippets of poems written by migrant workers.PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

For her upcoming work, dancer and choreographer Raka Maitra is inspired by poems written by migrant workers.

From Another Land will showcase snippets of these texts by two poets from the Bangladeshi migrant worker community here.

In the work, her choreography, which usually gives a contemporary twist to Indian dance, will be a "poignant reflection on ideas of land and belonging". Four dancers including Maitra, from her company Chowk will perform the piece.

The 44-year-old Kolkata-born, Singapore-based artist first read these texts online early this year and was immediately drawn to Rajib Shil Jibon and Zakir Hussain Khokon's poems of love, longing and displacement. She got in touch with both of these workers through Facebook and decided to use their poems to devise this piece.

She feels while migrant workers are often viewed as just builders of roads, homes and buildings, they bring with them their own fabulous and wondrous worlds, which are often unexplored and uncelebrated.

The idea of displacement is especially relevant to her. Her maternal grandparents were originally from Dhaka, which after much political strife during and after the Partition, became what is now known as Bangladesh. They had to leave everything behind and move to the eastern Indian city of Kolkota in 1947.

When she moved to Singapore in 2004, she found herself often in Little India where hearing "snatches of Bengali conversations was such comfort". She is married and has two sons, aged 23 and 16.


    WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 8pm

    WHERE: Esplanade Theatre Studio

    ADMISSION: $28 from Sistic (


Her choreography has often been influenced by words. She says: "Literature is about life and you learn so much from it."

What do you usually do immediately before a show to get yourself mentally prepared?

in the theatre, setting up, plotting and rehearsing. There is no separate mental preparation needed because once you hit The production week is usually spent the theatre, you are in the zone and nothing else matters but the performance.

If you are dancing, what do you do when someone in the group gets a step wrong or makes a mistake?

There can be no great art without great risk. Great artists are able to deal with the mistakes without disrupting the integrity of the dance. It is not about getting a step right or wrong. That is technical and should be fixed in the studio, not the stage.

If the rehearsal process was adequate and the training sound, it is almost always a matter of the performer's consciousness and state of energy during the performance. It is about being present, believing in the art and knowing what to do when things go awry.

After a really intense show, what do you do to relax or unwind?

I stay home, clean the house and cook. I find cleaning very therapeutic.

What made you fall in love with dance?

I grew up with my grandparents and my grandfather founded an institute in Kolkata which has dance, theatre, music and puppetry. So, I grew up with training, rehearsals, recordings and performances. It was just part of my life.

I cannot remember my first performance because from the time I was three, I was that extra person on stage. The baby monkey in Ramayana, a tree, a dog or a paint brush...the roles just got longer as I grew up. I never had a formal Rangapravesha (graduation into classical dance), dance was always just a part of my life.

What sets this production apart from the rest of your shows?

What struck me most about the poems on which the production is based was that they all survived on "memorialisation". The workers lead hard and unforgiving lives, far away from loved ones and delights they have known in the past.

But the memory of their land and their people sustains them. In one of my conversations with Zakir (Hossein) Bhai, he told me, just six days spent with his family can keep him going for two years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'Exploring the migrants' world through dance'. Print Edition | Subscribe