The Esplanade Presents ›› Kalaa Utsavam - Indian Festival of Arts › back to home

Tickets on sale 1 Sep 09


21 Nov 09, SAT
22 Nov 09, SUN

SAT, 8pm
SUN, 3pm
75mins, no intermission
Concessions for students, NSF and senior citizens

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Schools may use the TOTE Board Arts Grant to subsidise up to 60% of the cost of this programme
Esplanade Theatre Studio

  1. Synopsis
  2. Biographies
  3. Exclusive Interview

A legendary tree which can, alone, grow into a sprawling forest of entwined branches, roots and canopy... An ancient temple dance that has spawned a vast body of styles... The banyan tree and bharathanatyam dance have much in common. Experience this similarity with Aalam, a dance production that spans the history of the famous dance.

Grand Legends

The banyan tree, in Hindu mythology, is a sacred tree that lives forever and that can fulfil one’s wishes. Scientifically, the story of the banyan tree is no less remarkable. An unusual plant, it grows by bending to the ground its longer branches which become roots that pump sap back up, serve as support and again grow new branches, eventually growing into a small forest in itself and developing a giant canopy under which musicians, villagers, mendicants, monks and poets alike have historically sought shelter and peace.

Bharathanatyam dance, Apsaras Arts' Music and Creative Director Aravinth Kumarasamy feels, can be likened to the banyan tree. "Through time immemorial it has sustained itself through the variety of genres it has assumed", he says. "And just like each hanging root, each variation only enriches the corpus of cultural heritage that we are proud of and enjoy".

According to him, bharathanatyam was handed down as a living tradition from generation to generation under the Devadasi system under which women were dedicated to temples to serve the deity as dancers and musicians forming part of elaborate rituals. The revival of bharathanatyam in the early 19th century by pioneers such as E Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale brought the dance out of temple precincts and onto the proscenium stage though it retained its essentially devotional character.

With Aalam, Apsaras Arts takes a look at the evolution of bharathanatyam through the centuries. Apsaras' dancers will perform compositions depicting various styles of bharathanatyam that have emerged through the ages. These include the styles of the Devadasi tradition, Rajadasi tradition, Tanjore Quartet, the Revival Period - Kalakshetra, the traditions of Vazhoovur and Pandana Nallur, the styles of bharathanatyam depicted in 1960s movies during the golden era of Indian films, modern styles of bharathanatyam, styles created and performed by non-Indians and contemporary bharathanatyam.

Aalam will feature a style of presentation slightly different from the traditional format. Much of the dancing will take place against the backdrop of visual projection depicting scenes and images related to bharathanatyam. In one segment, the late Padmini, renowned bharathanatyam dancer, will appear to "dance" with the Apsaras dancers in a fascinating juxtaposition of both onscreen dancer and onstage dancers.

Aravinth emphasises that "the presentation will not narrate history". Instead, "this Aalam showcases many self-sustaining roots and trunks that support and form this vast grand tree called bharathanatyam... As we perambulate the tree, we discover its root formations and enjoy the beauty of tradition's variations."

Artistic direction: Neila Sathyalingam
Concept, music and creative direction: Aravinth Kumarasamy
Choreography: Shankar Kandasamy

Read about “Tree of Legends” here

In collaboration with:

Neila Sathyalingam (artistic direction)

Singapore’s 1989 Cultural Medallion Recipient, Neila established Apsaras Arts in Singapore in 1977 and has since been promoting traditional Indian art forms in Singapore. She has also collaborated with other ethnic dance, music and dance ensembles and government bodies to promote Indian dance forms in Singapore. She is the Artistic Director of Apsaras. In the past 25 years, she has achieved significant awards and accolades for her contribution to the arts scene in Singapore and the region, and has been bestowed the prestigious title of Viswa Kala Bharathi for her outstanding contribution to the Indian arts internationally. She is known for her fresh and innovative artistic direction.

Aravinth Kumarasamy (concept, music, creative direction)

Aravinth is a veena musician, a composer, a Nattuvaangam artist and Indian classical dancer. In 1999, he received the “Young Artiste Award for Music” from the National Arts Council of Singapore. Aravinth has been instrumental for many of Apsaras’ creative productions and original music scores. Aravinth’s compositions are presented regularly by international arts companies in Australia, India and the UK. He is a member of the Singapore National Arts Council’s advisory panel for music. Aravinth was trained in the Vazhoovur style of bharathanatyam. He has received the titles of “Nirtya Vaarithi” from Padmashri Vazhoovur Ramiah Pillai for his achievements in Bharathanatyam, and “Vaineeka Visharadha” from Bharatha Natya Guru Prof. C.V. Chandrashekar presented by Apasaras Arts for his achievements in music.

Shankar Kandasamy (choreographer)

Shankar is an established bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and composer from Malaysia. He heads the Bharata Natyam faculty of The Temple of Fine Arts Malaysia, where he was trained and continues to serve as Artistic Director, Choreographer (of over 70 arangetrams to date) and Performer. He has given many bharatanatyam recitals locally and performed in fine dance dramas and variety programmes worldwide. He is also trained in odissi, ballet and other regional classical styles of India. This gives him a rich vocabulary of dance which he uses in choreography. His knowledge of Sanskrit and Tamil and his carnatic music training enables him to serve as a resource person and music composer for dance. He is also a lecturer at the Malaysian National Arts Academy. He sits on the National Arts Awards panel of the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage Malaysia, as Advisor. He is a regular performer at prestigious arts festivals in India.

Apsaras Arts Dancers

Over the past 30 years, Apsaras Arts has trained many dancers, with more than 50 dancers having presented their Arangetrams and graduating after completing the bharathanatyam course. Many are full-time dance teachers, choreographers and dancers. Several of them have full-time professional careers such as doctors, engineers, civil service professionals, teachers and entrepreneurs, but still dedicate their time as company dancers driven by their passion to dance. The company dancers are all Singapore citizens. Apsaras Arts dancers have performed at arts festivals in Singapore and abroad.

About Apsaras Arts

Apsaras Arts was established in Singapore in 1977 to harness and integrate young talents. With an initial student strength of about 20, Apsaras Arts has expanded in size and significance. Several senior students have branched out to form their own dance institutions both under the name of Apsaras Arts and in their own names in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka, UK, France and the USA.

The founding objective of Apsaras Arts was to propagate classical Indian and folk dance forms in their traditional techniques. Over the years, this objective has evolved to include using these traditions in collaboration with Chinese and Malay dance forms to create fusion works, thus presenting the traditional in a fresh blend suited to multi-cultural and cosmopolitan Singapore.

Through creative innovations and bold collaborations, Apsaras Arts aspires to instill awareness of Indian dance forms in Singapore, maintain the best standards of performance and cultivate an interest in the rich heritage and traditions of Indian arts throughout Asia.

Apsaras Arts has performed numerous artistic productions locally and internationally. It has conducted numerous dance debuts and has been known for its highly acclaimed dance-theatre productions over the last 20 years. Several of these enjoyed successful performances overseas. Since 2007, Apsaras Arts has emerged as a premier professional performing company, focusing on creating new works at international and national festivals, corporate events and its seasonal performances.

Esplanade: Why did you choose to trace the development of bharathanatyam with this production?
Bharathanatyam is the MOST popular style of Indian classical dance, in terms of number of prominent dancers, internationally-famous dancers and choreographers, number of dance institutions and so on. Today, bharathanatyam is taught and danced almost in every country in the world. Hence, as the Creative Director of Apsaras Arts and being a bharathanatyam dancer and choreographer myself, I was inspired to trace its evolution, and was amazed to discover this grand banyan tree, which is called "Aalam" in the Tamil language.

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