Torn between dreams and duties

Ghost Writer features Ebi Shankara and Sharda Harrison.
Ghost Writer features Ebi Shankara and Sharda Harrison.PHOTO: SURROUND

Ghost Writer is a fusion of drama, design and dance and explores characters caught between modernity and tradition

Even as The Necessary Stage (TNS) charges ahead towards its 30th birthday next year, it has not abandoned its past, pushing boundaries and breathing new life into old works.

Two years ago, the theatre company stormed the stage with the ambitious Gitanjali (I Feel The Earth Move), a dextrous interrogation of modernity and tradition, past and future, that wove together dance, drama, music, poetry and multimedia.

With its latest show, Ghost Writer, written by Haresh Sharma and directed by TNS founder Alvin Tan, elements from its 2014 production resurface.

But this is not a restaging of Gitanjali, says Tan, 53. Ghost Writer is Gitanjali reworked. And this time, the company is taking the chance to explore more deeply how different disciplines such as dance and drama interact with one another.

The process was an artful fusion of visions and forms. Sharma and Tan were not present at rehearsals in the initial stages.

"We were not to be in the rehearsal room when we handed the cast to the choreographer (French-Laotian Ole Khamchanla) and told him to do what he wants with the work. Then we had to see the work when it was returned to us and to work from the perspective of another discipline," says Tan.


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"It was unfamiliar and awesome at the same time. We had asked the choreographer to take the idea of the scene and work from there. We would fit the words in later."

Sharma then studied the scenes created by Khamchanla and looked at how he could rewrite the script. And this time, sound artist Bani Haykal and vocalist Namita Mehta worked alongside the choreographer instead of the playwright.

Tan says: "In our creative history, this pushes our interdisciplinary collaboration out of TNS' conventional practice."

Ghost Writer leads audiences into the lives of characters buffeted by their past and future. They are caught between modernity and tradition and torn between following their dreams and fulfilling their duties.

Among them are a teacher of a classical dance school who wants to see it preserved but struggles to find someone to pass the flame to, and a young dancer straining against the shackles of her traditional training.

Ghost Writer boasts a star- studded lineup both on- and offstage. Performers include veteran Malaysian actress Sukania Venugopal, Pink Gajah Theatre artistic director Sharda Harrison and Ravindran Drama Group's artistic director Ebi Shankara.

Meanwhile, Wong Chee Wai designs the set, Adrian Tan the lighting and Brian Gothong Tan takes charge of multimedia.

The show proves that the stage is a democratic platform, with drama, design and dance sharing the spotlight.

For instance, the multimedia, says Adrian Tan, takes on the role of "another actor, a narrator that tells the backstories of the characters in a highly compressed form".

Khamchanla, 37, says his approach to choreography here was all about spontaneity. He investigated the ways of linking acting and movement through improvisation and experimentation and drew on hip hop, contemporary dance and even Japanese dance theatre butoh.

It was, he says, his first time choreographing something that placed communicating a story and narrative as its main priority.

Meanwhile, 28-year-old Harrison - who plays Nandini, a woman who blames herself for the death of her own sister - had to navigate the work's interdisciplinary nature with care.

"One has to delve into dance choreography, while maintaining an undercurrent of emotion throughout the piece, simultaneously sustaining the intellectual journey of the character. So I'm constantly battling between states of movement, sound and acting," she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Torn between dreams and duties'. Print Edition | Subscribe