‘Amara’ unravels the beauty of Banteay Srei

Apsaras Arts Dance Company’s latest work ‘Amara’ is inspired by the sculptures at Banteay Srei

Apsaras Arts Dance Company productions are not just about dance, they are culture travelogues. The Singapore-based group’s choreographic works have been journeying through South East Asia, offering glimpses of the history and heritage of the region.

If ‘Angkor – An Untold Story’ took the audience to the heart of the Khmer Empire in 12th century Cambodia and its ties with the Chola Empire in India, ‘Anjasa’, which means ‘path’ in Pali, explored the beauty of Buddhist temple architecture. The company’s latest presentation, ‘Amara’, that premières today at Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts 2020, hosted by Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, is inspired by one of Cambodia’s famous sacred structures, Banteay Srei.

“We have been thoroughly enjoying this voyage with a purpose. Apart from the fact that it perfectly fits into our aesthetic vision, these choreographic works have brought alive the strong and traditional link between India and South East Asia,” says Aravinth Kumarasamy, artistic director, Apsaras Arts.

“Banteay Srei, the only temple in the region not built by a royal, signifies not just a synthesis of cultures but also brings together Shiva and Vishnu. The temple has finely sculpted yoginis on its unusual pink sandstone walls and scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Amara is an effort to showcase the spirit behind its architectural design and the spiritual ethos,” says Aravinth.

The choreography draws its essence from Bharatanatyam, an art form the company has been imparting training in since its inception in 1977 by Kalakshetra alumni and faculty members, S. Sathyalingam and Neila Sathyalingam.

Giving a unique identity

Aravinth, who has extensively researched Khmer history before conceptualising these works, says what he finds amazing about Cambodian temples and monuments is that they are not mere replicas of Indian structures. “They have been created after a deep study of the Indian tradition and their own understanding of it. This gives the South East Asian culture a unique identity. Having been in Singapore for many years and practising an art that goes beyond technique to explore tradition, I have been drawn towards themes that help me look at the world through the window of culture.”

Amara’s music has been composed by Rajkumar Bharathi, a long-time collaborator, who always finds doing music for the company’s productions exciting, “since it is a lovely mix of imagination and convention.”

“Besides choreography, a lot of thought also goes into costume and set design. I feel a production’s appeal depends on how much the team has worked on every little aspect. The effort never stops with crafting concepts and movements. ‘Amara’ will once again prove our belief in setting the stage perfectly, even if it is a digital presentation. Choreography and costume for the production are by Mohanapriyan Thavarajah while sound design is by Sai Shravanan. And eight dancers will unravel the stories of Banteay Srei,” says Aravinth.

‘Amara’ will be available for viewing on SISTIC Live till November 29.

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