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New play 'Gitanjali' celebrates diversity

By Jo TanEvents - 28 August 2014 1:10 PM | Updated 11 September 2014

New play 'Gitanjali' celebrates diversity

Zen Alvin Tan, artistic director of The Necessary Stage, poses a question when talking about the company’s new production coming in September.

“How do we preserve culture and tradition? Like a museum does, in their 'pure' form? Or do we help them exist in modernity and cross-pollinate with it, allowing other possibilities to emerge?”

This is the basis of the theatre company’s new work, ‘Gitanjali’, written by Haresh Sharma and inspired by the poetry collection of the same name by Nobel prize-winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.

cry baby
Shradda Harrison stars as the lead in the play, written by Haresh Sharma and directed by Alvin Tan

The play centres around Savitri, a traditional Odissi dancer in India who feels she is losing both her protege and son to globalisation and modern life, as they respectively prepare to emigrate and pursue more contemporary activities.

OLD AND NEW

Accordingly, the performance features a staggering number of old, new and multinational art forms, including traditional Indian dance, contemporary dance, multimedia art, song, poetry, and of course, theatre.

Likewise, the list of cast and collaborators reads like a who's who of their respective disciplines, including Odissi/contemporary dancer and artistic director Raka Maitra, Vasantham star Ebi Shankara, Life! Theatre Award nominees Padma Sagaram and Sharda Harrison, Young Artist Award-winning musician Bani Haykal, and acclaimed French-Laotian choreographer Ole Khamchanla.

Yet, awards or not, each of these experts meet new challenges in having to mix and match their skills in unprecedented combinations.

OUT OF COMFORT ZONE

Tan said: “Like many of the characters, all artistes from the different art forms must be willing to move away from their comfort zones and work collaboratively.”

“For example, our piece features Tagore's famous conversations with Einstein and Gandhi. How do we convey the interaction of the abstract notions of scientific truth (Einstein), political knowledge (Gandhi) and poetic truth (Tagore) in an inspiring way?

“We used the interaction of dance, multimedia and soundscape, to try and distil the essence of these extraordinary conversations, so that the audience can relate to them viscerally, not just rationally.”

With its plot revolving around a family in India and inspired by Indian poetry, some might feel that ‘Gitanjali’is a departure from The Necessary Stage's trademark focus on Singapore and Singaporeans, as exemplified in its Singlish-peppered, local-issue-laden plays such as ‘Model Citizens’, ‘Off Centre’or the recent ‘Best Of’,about being Malay in Singapore.

Tan thinks otherwise.

VERY GROOVY

He said: “Unlike Gandhi who was a nationalist, Tagore was more interculturally-inclined, and did not see England as an enemy. Relevantly, Singapore is composed of migrants, both in our forefathers' time and today: you hear a cacophony of different languages and dialects flooding the streets in Orchard Road. Our national culture is a constant cross-pollination of cultures.

“India, especially, is very present in Singapore: our socio-cultural landscape continues to evolve with the addition of new Indians. Going for the National Indian Music Competition in June, I was told that the audience and the participants of the competition were mostly Indians from India. Raka Maitra left India to start her dance company Chowk in Singapore, and has been giving Odissi dance a stronger presence here.”

Tan mused that tapping into the Indian culture “in this age of the global village” is “very in the groove of the times”.

Inter-disciplinary works are not new to the company. It has previously staged collaborations with Croatia and Japan, which featured a mix of the countries' art-forms.

“Other than the challenge and potential of interdisciplinary productions, it's also important to me that they celebrate diversity, especially in a time when (there is a) lack of tolerance for differences. These issues are part of what inspired the telling of ‘Gintajali’as well.”

Tan added: “We might not all be born in India, or are Odissi dancers, but I think how we all can relate to Savitri is how we deal with inevitable departure from tradition.”

‘Gitanjali (I feel the earth move)’ | Date: 26-28 September 2014 | Time: 8pm, Fri-Sat; 3pm, Sat-Sun | Venue: SOTA Drama Theatre | Address: 1 Zubir Said Drive | Tickets: $25-$45 from Sistic

 

Gitanjali [I feel the earth move]

Gitanjali [I feel the earth move]

Date Sep 26, 2014 - Sep 28, 2014

VenueSCHOOL OF THE ARTS SINGAPORE - Drama Theatre

Ticket PriceS$25.00 - S$45.00
 (excludes booking fee)