Haymini Muthusamy (Singapore)
Anita Ratnam (India)
Picture by R.Nedumaran
Date: 11 May 2007
Venue: The Substation Theatre
By Julia Waite
3 June 2007
The Grey Festival was an Indian Contemporary Dance Festival, an intensive and exploratory 5-day festival, focusing on the relatively new dance genre Indian Contemporary Dance (ICD). The festival was significant in three respects; it was the first of its kind in Singapore, it explored Indian choreography in the contemporary idiom and thirdly, it created a platform for emerging dancers who are willing to experiment with new forms of Indian dance.
The evening began with a talk given by Sadanand Menon who discussed the development of Indian Contemporary Dance, often dismissed as lesser to traditional Indian Dance. Menon also mentioned iconic American contemporary dancer Martha Graham’s career, and even comparing her pioneering spirit to Jayanthi Siva and Raka Maitra’s efforts in championing a relatively new genre of Indian dance.
Two performances followed – Plastic Goddess performed by Haymini Muthusamy and About HER in Four Chapters by Anita Ratnam.
About HER was a superior performance, with Anita dancing with great force and passion. Her performance successfully combined dance and storytelling.
Plastic Goddess, on the other hand, combined a rather dull narration with a poorly choreographed dance routine. However, Plastic Goddess was saved by the beautifully eerie traditional Indian music performed by Bihagya Murthy and Akilesh Mohan, which created a contemplative atmosphere in which the theme ‘forever is getting shorter’ could be reflected. In the end, while some of the audience were lulled by narrator Andy Mowatt’s dulcet tones, whisked away to a private place of listening, others require concrete meanings and narratives. Unfortunately, Plastic Goddess did no provide them.
In addition, the combining of British poet Michael Corbidge’s work with the story of Krishna’s lovers Radha and Meera was a cunning way to represent the universal theme of perfect love. However, the performance was let down by the rough approach taken to composition, not to mention the overall aesthetic setup. The placement of performers on stage was rough, with “voice actor” Andy Mowatt sat awkwardly to the side of the stage. He even walked onto the stage during the performance! His graceless presence and clumsy entering and exiting marred the performance. Haymini Muthusamy was committed to her performance but was let down by uninspired choreography that left her staring out beyond the audience for long periods of time. In the end, the dance was too static to be considered truly engaging.
Plastic Goddess was in sharp contrast with About Her, which was a tour de force production. A vocabulary of movement was built that blended traditional Indian dance movements with contemporary dance. Anita Ratnam’s dance exposed the depths of human emotion through movements that were sharp, angular, jagged, and direct. Her transitions from being a silent dancer to storyteller were beautifully executed. The aesthetics, including the lighting and costumes, were striking; especially Anita’s final costume – an Indian inspired outfit in rich silks and crushed velvet. The audience was moved by her storytelling which was delivered with such conviction. Nobody was tired of the repetitious nature of the stories.
Jayanthi Siva and Raka Maitra’s collaboration has culminated in the production of two ambitious and fresh new works. As much as Haymini Muthusamy’s Plastic Goddess was a less mature performance compared to Anita Ratnam’s About HER, it was executed with an attempt to reach intense precision. A good experimentation indeed.
As Martha Graham stated, “At times I fear walking that tightrope. I fear the venture into the unknown. But that is part of the act of creating and the act of performing. That is what a dancer does.”
The Grey Festival did just that.
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Julia Waite is currently completing a masters in Museum and Heritage studies from Victoria University, New Zealand. She has been in Singapore on an academic placement at The Substation.