Artistic collaborations can work wonderfully when East meets East. This is what happened at the Esplanade, Singapore, when Apsaras Arts joined hands with Balinese dancers, Singapore dramaturgy experts, lighting and set designers, and the Singapore Chinese orchestra. The connecting thread was the well-researched theme: Rice (‘Arisi’ in Tamil), the daily life-giver of the East, and the core of tradition and celebration.
Aravinth Kumarasamy, artistic director, Apsaras Arts, brought together creative minds, including Lim Ho Ngean, I Wayan Dibia and Mohanapriyan Tavarajah, for the production. Bharatanatyam dancers of Singapore and India, and Balinese dancers set the stage afire. There was never a dull moment with swift costume changes and entries and exits. The Indian group came up with a veriety of movements that went the beyond the classical. When the Balinese dancers took the stage a rare homogeneous visual emerged. And when the two groups danced together, responding to each other’s musical tradition, they drew a picturesque canvas.
Vignettes where rice plays a significant role in life were strung together. For instance a child being taught to write Tamil alphabets on rice spread on the floor and a child being taught the first dance steps (theyya theyi) by stamping on a heap of husk that shapes into alarippu were cleverly choreographed Folk songs in Tamil brought alive the dance depiction of death, birth, harvest, climate change etc. There were some fun moments too when the Balinese dancers playfully threw rice cakes at each other.
The choreography by Mohanapriyan, who has put together several new works for Apsaras Arts, had many unique moments. The costumes not only showcased the textile tradition of India and Bali but were also an integral part of the narrative.
The captions explaining each act were useful in understanding the role of rice in our lives, including the sociological aspect when people give up agriculture to pursue other jobs elsewhere.
Rajkumar Bharathi and Sai Shravanam have provided suitable musical support. Singapore Chinese orchestra and the Balinese musical excerpts added colour to the soundscape.
This review is one of the last pieces written by dancer-scholar Lakshmi Viswanathan.