The pandemic has created uncertainty in almost every aspect of daily life. Dance companies in Singapore, like other performing arts groups, have not been able to stage public performances for months. The National Arts Council has been helpful with the Arts and Culture Resilience Package grant, the Capability Development Scheme for the Arts (CDSA), and the Digital Presentation Grant for the Arts (DPG). Some dance groups have been responsive, venturing into new territory to record their repertoire at various studios or theatres, while others used the DPG grants for livestreaming of their dance productions from the studios.
However, audiences and artistes evidently prefer to connect with each other through live performance, as direct communication between them is more satisfying. In recent months, there have been windows of opportunities to perform at theatres. The result is impressive.
The Bhaskar Arts Academy co-produced “The Butterfly Lovers” with the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, its landmark cross-cultural dance production which premiered in 1958. This is not a restaging but a newly choreographed dance drama by Meena Meenakshy, who is Co-Artistic Director at the Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and Principal of the Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society in Singapore. Meena flew back to Singapore in November and worked intensively with the all-Singaporean female cast for the timeless tale to be told in an innovative way. The music was by Dr Rajkumar Bharathi, an accomplished composer, and Neil Chua Wey Chong who is known for his cross-cultural work played the ruan, a traditional Chinese plucked string instrument. This produced an elegant fusion of Indian and Chinese music. The three-act dance-drama selected plots of the versions Meena read, thus different from the 1958 version which followed the story of the Yue Opera film closely. The more original choreography was the inclusion of two group dances that featured the classmates of Liang Shan Bo and Zhu Ying Tai in their study and leisure times. The dancers’ rhythmic stomping of their feet, the quick change of hand gestures and floor patterns were done in impeccable unison. Their teasing added some comical elements and revealed Shan Bo’s close relationship with Ying Tai. Liang Shan Bo, danced by Malini Bhaskar, shifted through complicated rhythms and balances at ease with the narration of the character’s Nritya clearly in every scene. Her duets were with Sarenniya Ramathas who played Yingtai, donned in beautiful Chinese opera costume and ghungroo (ankle bell), adding to the delight of cultural blending.
Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts on the other hand, staged “PERMATA”, tracing the Malay dances staged by Sriwana and the now disbanded National Dance Company. It is a remarkable achievement to connect to the past by showcasing the classic repertoire with details. The narration of the background by Marina Yusoff on screen before each item greatly added to the historical value of the presentation. These include 9 dances taught by the renowned Indonesia choreographer dancer Madam Liauw Tjien Yan Liew, two dances by Francis Yeo from the National Dance Company, and a dance taught by Indonesian teacher Nasrun, from the 50s to the 70s. “PERMATA” is an exemplary showcase for keeping Malay dance heritage alive.
Nurturing young talent is key to carry the past of our dance heritage to the future. It is with this objective in mind that Jenny Neo, the Artistic Director of the Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre, and Benedict Soh Kian Leng, the Creative and Production Director of the company, guided 11 young choreographers to present their new works in a recent production entitled “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”. These new works featured by the Singapore Chinese Dance Theatre (SCDT) include solo dance, duet, and dance with small ensemble. The topics range from environmental issues in “Interdependence”, danced by two students of National University of Singapore, Teo Kate-Lyn and Teo Ning Ginn; “Chasing Dream” by Yong Fong Sin; searching for cultural identity in “Going Home” by Malaysian interdisciplinary artist and researcher Chan Kar Kar etc. Most of these young choreographers and dancers received professional training at dance academies or Universities’ dance departments and are technically competent. Some of them demonstrated their ability of conveying choreographic ideas with clarity and got their messages across through movements. This is a project that has great potential to groom artistes who tell stories through dance that resonates with audiences in the years to come.