Someone to say 'stop it, this is too much'

The Second Sunrise by Chowk, where dancer- choreographer Raka Maitra worked with dramaturg, Sankar Venkateswaran.
The Second Sunrise by Chowk, where dancer- choreographer Raka Maitra worked with dramaturg, Sankar Venkateswaran. PHOTO: BERNIE NG
Raka Maitra.
T. Sasitharan.

Dancer-choreographer Raka Maitra, 46, and dramaturg T. Sasitharan, 59, have been constant collaborators.

They have worked together as early as 2007, with Maitra's solo work titled Boundaries. In 2014, there was The Blind Age, a piece about violence that blurred the lines between dance and theatre.

But with last year's production of The Second Sunrise, which was commissioned for the Esplanade's da:ns festival, Maitra worked with a different dramaturg, Sankar Venkateswaran, instead.

When asked, the two recall a disagreement with some mirth, like two bickering old friends.

"I refused to work with you," says Sasitharan. "I thought we were doing too much work together and that you should work with other people. We had deep disagreements about the work."

He explained that the disagreement stemmed from Raka thinking everything was dance, while he thought everything was theatre.

He is the director of the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI), while she is the founder of 10-year-old dance company Chowk, known for its contemporary expressions of the traditional Indian dance form of Odissi.

Through working with different dramaturgs, Maitra realised how different the result could be.

"I think Sasi is more subtle, while Sankar is more theatrical," she says.

For example, with The Second Sunrise, which talked about the burning of a library in Sri Lanka, Venkateswaran suggested toppling a bookshelf.

"I certainly wouldn't have used the bookshelf," says Sasitharan. Venkateswaran is his former student at the ITI.

Of course, there is no bad blood between the old collaborators and disagreements are seen as part and parcel of working together.

Says Maitra on the value of the dramaturg: "I do the choreography and I'm usually in the piece, so it's very important to have a third eye.

"It's good because we dancers tend to get self-indulgent. A dramaturg can say stop it, this is too much."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline Someone to say 'stop it, this is too much'. Subscribe