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Smoking Incense and Stray Birds


Jayanthi Siva and Raka Maitra


Stephanie Burridge






Guinness Theatre, The Substation



Smoke without Fire

Two works were featured as part of a weekend of contemporary Indian dance that included a forum and workshops. It was coordinated by Jayanthi Siva and Raka Maitra, who created and performed the two works.

Indian dance, firmly rooted in a number of classical forms, is taught via a rigorous guru system. At present there are eight styles including bharatanatyam, odissi and kathakali. These are fairly well known to viewers in Singapore, who have seen performances by the strong local Indian dance community and visiting artists from India, Malaysia and beyond. Each form has specific basic postures and hand gestures, structured around nine emotive expressions including love, courage, anger and serenity. It takes great courage and perhaps audacity to step outside the boundaries of these traditions; the weekend of performances, a workshop by visiting artist Anita Ratnam, and a dialogue session were part of this initiative.

Watching Jayanthi Siva restrained by elastic wires behind a plush red velvet drape was moving in its simplicity, yet provoking in its defiance of her classical Indian dance background. Collaborating with writer Michael Corbidge, she worked with text and video projection, dressed in tights with a scarf around her waist. The movement was free-flowing and evocative, yet restrained by her bonds. While Jayanthi was physically constrained, Haymini Muthusamy danced in the foreground restricted by the formalities of Indian classical dance. Both dancers sought identity and freedom, but there was little physical or emotional connection between them, and the juxtaposition in space needed to be matched more closely in theme. On this occasion, it seemed as though two different dances were performed in their own space and time by two different individuals. Having trained in contemporary dance in Australia, Jayanthi is able to work within the two vocabularies and could extend the tantalizing possibilities of this work much further. Currently, Smoking Incense appears more as a work in progress with an uncomfortable combination of forms, theatrical devices and movement vocabularies.

In contrast, Raka Maitra stripped away all elements of production save for a rather unsuccessful projection at the beginning of her Stray Birds. Loosely based on a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, it seeks to explore what contemporary Indian dance might stand for, articulated clearly through the body and its relationship to rhythm, sound and creativity. With the impressive body control that comes from years of training in odissi, Raka worked through a series of tightly constructed images and frames of movement that were at times reminiscent of photographic freezes. Sometimes she worked with simple props. However, the images were often blurred and it was unclear how they related to the dance. Nevertheless, she achieved a transition in movement vocabulary that was defined, focused and arrived at through intense investigation through the body. However, this piece needs something more to bring it alive to engage the audience - in its current state it strays into the realm of a choreographic exercise.

These two women tread different paths but are connected by their idealism and search for identity and new forms within their evolving traditions. One is working with text in a dance theatre style, the other with the embodied language of movement at its most abstract. They are articulate and passionate, both on and off stage, and envision creating new Indian dance choreography that invites the audience to join them on their journey.

"These two women tread different paths but are connected by their idealism and search for identity and new forms within their evolving traditions."

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.