Off Stage

'Miracle' to dance again after spine surgery

Kavitha Krishnan has an upcoming show Resist, Resurge: Traces Of Hope.
Kavitha Krishnan has an upcoming show Resist, Resurge: Traces Of Hope.PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR

After an operation on her spine in 1991, surgeons told Kavitha Krishnan's parents that their daughter would never dance again.

She proved them wrong: she is now 44, and an active dancer, choreographer and the artistic director of Maya Dance Theatre.

Kavitha, who is married to the dance group's co-founder, Imran Manaff, 41, and has no children, had been injured several times playing hockey in her school years, and had soldiered on with her dance training without attending to her injuries.

This led to spondylosis - a painful condition of the spine - which caused her momentary paralysis and affected her lower limbs.

But, recalls Kavitha: "My surgeon witnessed me dancing eight months after my operation and active rehabilitation and told my parents I was 'a miracle'. Only then did I find out from my parents and teacher that he had informed them I would not dance again.

"I returned to what I loved most - dance - within eight months. But it was a lot of work and faith that brought me back to where I belong."


  • WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, 100 Victoria Street, National Library Building,

    WHEN: May 19 to 21, 8.30pm

    ADMISSION: $28 for standard tickets, from

Her upcoming show, Resist, Resurge: Traces Of Hope explores the empowerment of women in a male-dominated world.

The show, a collaboration with choreographer Olivier Tarpaga, originally from Burkina Faso in Africa, runs at the Drama Centre Black Box from May 19 to 21.

How did you get into dance and what made you fall in love with it?

I was introduced to dance at the age of three by my mother when she sent me for dance classes with the late K. P. Bhaskar. It was significant for every Indian girl to learn her culture and heritage and we usually learn through the arts.

Then my journey as a performing artist continued under the guidance of Mrs S (who has requested not to be named), from another Indian dance company here.

I fell in love with dance when I recognised that it was part of my life. I saw dance in everything.

It made me understand my body's weaknesses and strengths, gave me new and meaningful friendships, and an avenue to communicate with others and touch many more lives. Dance has also taught me resilience, discipline and perseverance.

You've been on both sides of the stage: as a dancer putting on the performance and as a choreographer working with dancers. What do you enjoy for each and what do you find challenging?

As a dancer, my challenge is to maintain stamina and be able to work with the choreographer or trainer for the exact delivery of the work with its nuances.

As a classical dancer, I enjoy the interaction my body and space had with other dancers and live musicians. I enjoy the "here and now" state of the body, mind and soul when I dance. I become dance when I dance. As a choreographer, I enjoy witnessing the journey each body and dancer take with me in space. I want us to be locked in a "here and now" space in our own realm to create and move.

What is the strangest or most memorable thing that has happened to you onstage?

There are two I cannot forget. When I was back dancing after an operation on my spine, I once badly hurt my back onstage and, due to that pain, I started to tear up.

Everyone thought that it was part of my performance and applauded. The other dancers knew that something was wrong and one of them carried me offstage.

I was glad that I did not cause any inconvenience to the performance.

The other time was when a weapon used in a dance theatre performance broke while the dancer was performing. I managed to find another alternative on time and made up my own movements.

Do you still have onstage jitters? How do you get over them?

Yes, of course, even now after so many years of performing.

I try to isolate myself before I go onstage to find my own space and confidence.

I enter a new realm and enjoy the moment with the space, other artists and the audience.

Many say they get smitten by my eyes that "speak" and I guess I use that to reduce my jitters (laughs).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline ''Miracle' to dance again after spine surgery'. Print Edition | Subscribe