Glimmers of hope in the darkness



Maya Dance Theatre

Drama Box/Last Friday

Urban living, anxiety and loneliness might lead to encounters with the "invisible beast" of depression.

Maya Dance Theatre's artistic director Kavitha Krishnan, with co-choreographers Danang Pamungkas and Maya founding member Shahrin Johry, assembled an impressive artistic team to tackle the issue of mental well-being in this work.

Incorporating the narrative of Sita from the Ramayana gave it an Asian twist and a parallel storyline.

An immersive process evolved as lucid gestural phrases and improvisation were interspersed with characterisation gleaned from the dancers' research into a topic that is often a conversational no-go zone. Their honesty was real and raw emotions were intensely played out.

Krishnan's dual interest in dance and occupational therapy pulled the threads together.

The choreography sequenced observations and responses in a narrative tapestry that recounted a downward spiral into depression and sometimes suicide.

Javanese-trained dancer Pamungkas metaphorically embodied the dark side and incorporated exquisite hand gestures and dramatic facial expression as he seduced each dancer with symbolic golden bangles.

He was the link between Sita and the contemporary characters, who found themselves in a tug of war between succumbing to a vortex of depression and negotiating a way through the maze of despair.

The dancers clawed at the wall, sang inanely, pulled at their bodies and isolated themselves in a vacuum where touch, comfort and advice were resisted.

Discordant sounds of the composed score, with live violin and cello, engulfed them as the audience members viscerally shared the space. The pull of negativity was palpable.

The show started with a game of cards and childhood tricks as the audience members took their seats, and finished with an incongruous bharatanatyam-based group dance as the protagonists move from a state of inner turmoil to recovery.

Indonesian artist Peni Candrarini opened and closed the performance with her enigmatic voicing of Sita's emotions as she emerged with dignified grace from the darkness of abuse into the symbolic light.

Yet, this important sub-plot was not explored in depth.

Such structural anomalies became confusing as connections were lost and themes that were previously established were negated.

The performance worked best when clearly choreographed movements incorporated photographic frames of stillness to focus the expression. This was achieved mostlyin the duets between the dancers and Pamungkas that explored the polarities of trust, temptation, doubt and decision.

Chaotic and overplayed at times, the production's intention was to lift the stigma and generate awareness of mental health.

Maya confronted the themes head-on and dug deep to frame the complexities of this social issue in an absorbing work.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2017, with the headline Glimmers of hope in the darkness. Subscribe