Veteran choreographer and dancer creates new works at 81

Classical Indian dancer Santha Bhaskar is artistic director and chief choreographer at Bhaskar’s Art Academy. PHOTO: TABLA FILE

SINGAPORE - The pandemic has slowed down, but not stopped, Mrs Santha Bhaskar, 81.

The veteran choreographer, co-founder and artistic director of Bhaskar's Arts Academy created six new works, including pieces for digital media, in the past year.

Mrs Bhaskar has kept pace with online developments for the arts, just as she has responded to her environment in a career spanning more than 60 years.

After being inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame earlier this year, she is the sole recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal (Pingat Jasa Gemilang) in this year's National Day Awards.

She said: "In this challenging time, this award comes as an assurance shown towards the survival of traditional arts, in particular dance. It's an honour to receive it as our nation celebrates its 56th year."

The Kerala-born dancer came to Singapore aged 16 to marry K.P. Bhaskar, an established dancer-choreographer 14 years her senior. Together, the couple ran Bhaskar's Academy Of Dance, renamed Bhaskar's Arts Academy in 1993.

Mr Bhaskar died in 2013 from a heart-related illness. The couple have three children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Her dance and choreographic practices are rooted in classical Indian dance practices, but shaped by Singapore's multicultural society.

With her husband, she created The Butterfly Lovers in 1958, inspired by the movie based on the famous Chinese legend, for the Chinese students who studied Indian dance with them.

She has studied Chinese and Malay dance in Singapore, and composer Zubir Said, who composed the National Anthem and was the Bhaskars' neighbour in the Joo Chiat neighbourhood, was a frequent collaborator in their work.

Her interests extend to multidisciplinary practice as well, having set Singapore poetry in all four official languages to dance.

Awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1990 and the Public Service Star (Bintang Bakti Masyarakat) in 2016, the much-decorated arts veteran, who became a Singaporean in 1960, expressed gratitude for this latest laurel.

"My heart started pounding when I received the news of the award," she said. "I am truly humbled and I bow down to this land of mine that believes in the unity of our people, that created a space for me and gave me the freedom to practise my art when I first migrated here in the 1950s."

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