[Dance Review] Cross-Cultural Epic



Bhaskar’s Art Academy

16 October 2016

SOTA Drama Theatre

Before the start of the show, an announcement informs the audience that we are about to watch the third iteration of Vinayaka by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA)—Vinayaka 3.0, so to speak.

The choice of the computing term raises an interesting question: With technology being able to create a very realistic Lord Ganesha on screen, why would anyone—especially someone who is not from the culture—want to watch a rendition of how Lord Ganesha got his elephant head told through Bharatanaytam and Javanese dance?

The physical presence of the body.

In fact, the more advanced technology becomes, the more treasured physical virtuosity is. And the physical control and expressiveness displayed by dancers from BAA and Sasana Budaya Art Troupe (SBAT) is absolutely exquisite.

Put together on stage, both dances play off each other really well. Bharatanatyam’s stamps of physical vigour or quiet strength are a counterpoint to the courtly elegance in the fluid tip-toeing or shuffling of the feet in Javanese dance. Choreographers Meenakshy Bhaskar (BAA) and Santi Dwisaputri (SBAT) bring this to the fore through the interweaving formations as each troupe seems to frame the other at one point or another, especially as the attendants to Parvati (played by Dwisaputri herself).

While dance often suggests movement, stillness is the most difficult to achieve especially when you have to get the depiction of the gods just right. In that respect, the stage presences of Senthun Bhima Nugraha (Shiva) and Santi Dwisputri (Parvati) are unmistakeable.  The former has to keep his body upright to accommodate his costume—which includes two artificial hands that form a mudra—while adopting two soft gestures with his own hands. Yet, when he moves across the stage, he exudes a masculine and regal presence.

While Dwisputri’s gentle and graceful gestures suggest the pure and feminine Parvati, all it takes is for her to turn to the back for the world to be destroyed in sheer anger due to the death of her son, Ganesha.  Her versatility in expressing gracefulness, sorrow, and rage is a sight to behold.

Sarenniya Ramathas and Shruthilaya Ramachandran as Ganesha do not pale in comparison.

Ramathas, as Ganesha before he was beheaded, treats us with a dance of youthful vigour. When Ganesha battles Shiva’s Pancha Ganas to prevent his father from intruding on his mother, Ramathas departs slightly from the traditional Bharatanatyam movements. Her facial expressions and strong movement vocabulary makes the battle exciting to watch. This is complemented by the strong and well coordinated performances by the dancers portraying the Pancha Ganas (Miroshini Kannathasan, Nishalini Lakchimanathas, Priyadarshini Nagarajah, Tanuja Seran, and Usha Anbalagan).

Ramachandran, as the resurrected Ganesha with the elephant head, is the answer to the question posed at the start of the review. With a gentle swaying of her hand and a very slight movement of  her body, she intimates a lively image of Ganesha and his swaying trunk, as the mind vividly fills in the rest of the details.

The visual intricacies will be hollow without the music from BAA’s own musicians and Singa Nglras Gamelan Ensemble. The contrast between the musical forms mirrors the dances as well.

The carnatic music spans from the meditative to the rhythmic, while the various metals from the gamelan instruments enhance the rhythms and provide a wholesome resonance. A sense of grandeur envelops the whole theatre at the start and end of the show, when both musical forms come together, as we see the gods take the central dais, and are surrounded by the various dancers to form an impressive iconography.

Given the skilfulness of the dancers and musicians, I wish they were more ambitious in their art-making. The sections with Javanese dance with gamelan music, and Bharatanatyam with carnatic music, are a little too clearly delineated. The moments when both art forms intertwine are too few and far between.

The main impetus of BAA’s Traditional Arts in the Region series is to showcase the shared heritage among the traditional dances of Southeast Asia. While the differences between the dances strongly highlight the main characteristics of the respective dances, it would be a wasted opportunity not to see what happens if a dance embodies certain techniques or movements from the other.

All the more reason to look forward to BAA’s next collaboration and, perhaps, Vinayaka 4.0.

[Listing] Monkey Goes West by W!ld Rice


Bringing the Year of the Monkey to a happy climax, W!LD RICE’s award-winning Monkey Goes West will be returning for a strictly limited season to the Drama Centre Theatre for the holidays.

Monkey Goes West completely sold out its first run in 2014, playing to an audience of more than 15,000 at the newly refurbished Victoria Theatre. It dominated the 2015 Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards with seven nominations – more than any other production that year. It eventually took home the awards for Production of the Year, Production of the Year (Reader’s Choice) and Best Costume Design (Tube Gallery).

“The W!LD RICE pantomime is a unique annual tradition for family audiences in Singapore, and Monkey Goes West set a new benchmark in terms of the artistic excellence that we always strive for,” says Ivan Heng, Artistic Director of W!LD RICE. “In the Year of the Monkey, we are thrilled that audiences, both loyal and new, will have the opportunity to experience this incredible show for themselves!”

With an affectionate, cheeky script by W!LD RICE Resident Playwright Alfian Sa’at, music by acclaimed composer Elaine Chan and direction by Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan, Monkey Goes West is the first W!LD RICE pantomime to take inspiration from the East, relocating beloved Chinese literary classic Journey To The West to modern-day Singapore.

Tan, who earned a Straits Times Life! Theatre Award nomination for Best Director for his work, will return to direct the production, which he describes as a “dream come true”.

“Monkey Goes West turned out to be this award-winning show that audiences loved and couldn’t get enough of, which is really why we are bringing it back so soon,” Tan explains with pride.

Young talents from Martial House – Singapore’s leading wushu academy – will be showing off their impressive martial arts skills on stage. The academy will also work closely with the children of W!LD RICE’s FIRST STAGE! programme, aged 5 to 12, in preparation for their stage debuts.

The cast of Monkey Goes West includes some of Singapore’s finest veteran actors and rising stars. Familiar faces like Chua Enlai (The Importance of Being Earnest, TV’s The Noose), Siti Khalijah Zainal (HOTEL, Best Of) and Darius Tan (Army Daze, Twelve Angry Men) will share the stage with Sugie Phua (Project SuperStar, Liao Zhai Rocks!) Joshua Lim (My Mother Buys Condoms, Café), Frances Lee (Beauty World, Fat Pig) and Kimberly Chan (High Class, Hotpants).

Monkey Goes West runs from 18 November–17 December 2016 at the Drama Centre Theatre. For ticketing information, please visit Sistic.

Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’s Cross-Cultural Leanings

Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’s (BAA) latest production, Vinayaka, sees the troupe collaborating with Sasana Budaya Art Troupe (Indonesia)  and Singa Nglaras Gamelan Ensemble (Singapore) as part of their Traditional Arts in the Region series. To better understand BAA’s new direction towards cross-cultural collaboration, I arranged an email interview with Mrs Santha Bhaskar, artistic director of BAA .


Mrs Santha Bhaskar

What made BAA decide to launch the Traditional Arts in the Region series?

In 1990 I was awarded a scholarship to study Thai culture at Chulalongkorn University. I think my most profound experience was the collaboration among the delegates of that ASEAN Exchange programme. The sharing of cultures from the representatives  made me realise how old and how much of a treasure our traditions are.

At the end of the course, we were expected to create an item to signify the unity of ASEAN in dance. Singapore is in a very unique situation because of its cosmopolitan nature and its multi-cultural tradition. My representation, being an Indian dancer, was a question that I had to answer to many and to myself. I knew I had to make my contribution “Singapore” in nature. It was difficult initially but in the end I created the evolution of man (through the avathars of Vishnu), finishing with the struggle to attain ultimate intelligence and symbolised this with Buddha (the enlightened one).

Again and again I have choreographed ASEAN epics such as Ramayana, Manohra and Vinayaka. With each production, BAA’s connection to the ASEAN region became stronger and that led to the launch of the series.

Earlier this year, BAA performed in Bangkok for the ASEAN plus Ramayana Festival. Has BAA been very involved in cultural events organised by ASEAN? If so, how has such encounters influenced the artistic practice of BAA?
In addition to my early encounter in 1990, many more ASEAN Ramayana performances have been staged in this region. BAA has been involved in several of them starting with the Ramayana Festival in Angkor Wat, Cambodia in 1994. Subsequently there were several others in Myanmar, India and Thailand. My daughter, Meenakshy Bhaskar, also spent more than a year touring the region with Realizing Rama — a production that brought together artistes from all around the region. These events did influence BAA to create an awareness of ASEAN traditional arts and culture, and foster collaborations with our neighbouring countries.

I noticed that the Southeast Asian Studies department at the National University of Singapore is listed as one of your collaborators. What is their role in this production?

Department of South east Asian Studies’ Gamelan ensemble is collaborating with BAA’S musicians to play joint compositions of Carnatic and Javanese music. It is a definitely a happy marriage of two happy partners.

Stay tuned for an upcoming interview conducted with the choreographers and musical directors of Vinayaka about the rehearsal process. 


16 October 2016 (Sunday)


SOTA Drama Theatre

$25 & $30

Tickets: BAA website or enquires@bhaskarsarts.com

[Listing] Vinayaka by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy


A newly metamorphosed Vinayaka is set to make its one-night only world premier here. The simple and familiar tale of how the Hindu God Ganesha came to have an elephant’s head will be  presented in a cross-cultural collaboration by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, Sasana Budaya Art Troupe (Indonesia),  and Singa Nglaras Gamelan Ensemble (Singapore).

Vinayaka was first staged as a Bharatanatyam piece in 2003 and then again in 2005 by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA). In 2010, BAA reworked the piece with  Balinese elements and it premiered in Bali. In this iteration, Vinayaka has taken a new form that is expressed through Bharatanatyam and Javanese movements under the artistic direction of Santha Bhaskar, as well as choreographers Meenakshy Bhaskar and Santi Dwisaputri. The piece will be performed to a new and exciting score under the music direction of Ghanavenothan Retnam and Sambowo Agus Herianto.

“I have choreographed this work several times now but each time it feels so new. I connect with it differently each time and it is as if I transform along with the work” says Meenakshy Bhaskar, who is based in the US.

Because of the distance, collaborating with her Jakarta-based counterpart Santi Dwisaputri was not without challenges acoording to Meenaskshy, but they “clicked from the moment the conversation started” and at some points they “were completing one another’s sentences.”

Vinayaka is the first of a three-part series by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy that will present works under the umbrella theme of “Traditional Arts in the Region.” Exciting collaboration with other performing arts troupes from different ASEAN countries can be expected in the coming years.


16 October 2016 (Sunday)


SOTA Drama Theatre

$25 & $30

Tickets: BAA website or enquires@bhaskarsarts.com

Four Questions with Director Tracie Pang on Rent


Photo: Crispian Chan / Courtesy of Pangdemonium

To close its 2016 season, Pangdemonium has gathered a star-studded cast to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the hit musical, Rent. I conducted an email interview with director Tracie Pang to find out more about Pangdemonium’s take on the show.

Rent is the final show of Pangdemonium’s “Season of Love.” Why was the theme of love chosen for this year and why Rent?

Coming out of 2015 where the refugee crisis really started to make the news, the pieces we were drawn to had love centrally and squarely in their themes in one way or another. Rent ended up just being a natural end to the season plus with it being the 20th anniversary of Rent the timing was fitting. It was a seminal piece of theatre and a game changer when it opened. There is also a whole generation of people here who haven’t seen it as they were too young given that it has always been given a R18 rating in Singapore.

Caroline Framke from Vox.com thinks that Rent feels outdated because it “leans so heavily on grunge and generic alt-rock.”  Do you agree? Apart from the message, is there anything in particular about this staging that would appeal to today’s audience?

You could say that about any musical over 20 years old, should we not produce West Side Story or Singing in the Rain because it is dated? I would beg to offer a different perspective. This musical cannot be transported out of the time and place that it was set; it is indicative of the time and struggles of what was happening in ’89/90. It is in the music, the instrumentation and the story line. What is important is to look at how it had an influence on musicals that came after it with small bands, scaled down sets and gritty storylines.

Without Rent, musicals would not have progressed to the likes of Next to Normal where the rock edge in the music helps to connect to our emotions, our modern stories, and today’s generation in a more immediate and instinctual way. The story line in Rent is still very important and so its relevance is still key — diverse communities coming together in love through adversity. Accepting others who are different from ourselves and offering help and love. HIV may not be the death sentence that it was 20 years ago. We have treatments that work now, but it has not been eradicated and once you have it—you will live with it and have to medicate for the rest of your life.

Pangdemonium is known for engaging with community partners as part of its research and advocacy efforts. What are some surprising facts about AIDS that you learnt in the course of preparing for the show? 

Many of today’s youth are not aware of AIDS and HIV, the awareness of the virus has died down and we hope that this musical will go some way to reminding us that our new generations need to be kept aware. In the last 35 years, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus, and about 35 million people have died of HIV-related illnesses. Globally, approximately 36.7 million people are still living with HIV today. Singapore is not immune to this disease and we have met young people living with the disease on our journey with Rent. With this in mind,  we will be having a post-show dialogue with a representative from Action for Aids and Oogachaga for two shows on Wednesday nights (they have been given an advisory 16 rating so that teens and families can attend the show).

If you could change one aspect of our society in an instant, what would it be?

Fear. Fear of foreigners, fear of strangers, fear of people who are from a different ethnic or religious group. To be more accepting, welcoming and loving. As the good book says, love thy neighbour!

RENT runs from 7-23 October 2016 at the Drama Centre Theatre. Tickets from Sistic.

[Listing] Rent by Pangdemonium!


This October, Pangdemonium is proud to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of revolutionary rock musical, RENT. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this unforgettable and timeless story of a group of friends, who despite poverty and illness, learn to fall in love and find their voices, will anchor Pangdemonium’s 2016 Season of Love.

Under the shadow of HIV/AIDS, the group’s dreams and losses weave through the musical’s narration to paint a stunningly raw and emotional portrait of the gritty bohemian world of New York City in the 1990s. A story that resonates with all ages, RENT will be brought to life by a cast of rising performers including:

Benjamin Chow (Best Supporting Actor, The LKY Musical, 2016 Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards)as Mark,a struggling film-maker;

Cameron MacDonald as Roger, a doomed musician;

Juan Jackson as Collins,a disillusioned vagabond anarchist tech wizard;

Aaron Khaled as Angel, a drag queen with a heart of gold;

Tabitha Nauser as Mimi, a troubled club dancer;

Mina Kaye (Best Actress, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, 2015 Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards)as Maureen, a wild-child performance artist;

Frances Lee as Joanne, a hot-shot human rights lawyer; and

Mitchell Lagos as Benny, the one who sold his soul

“RENT is one of those very rare modern musicals that resonates profoundly with people across ages, and across generations. Full of heart, honesty, and passion, RENT still has the ability to move and inspire people with the power of its music and timeless message of community, life-affirmation, and most of all, love. We are very thrilled to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of this wonderful musical”, say artistic directors Adrian and Tracie Pang.

Directed by Tracie Pang, RENT also features Cheryl Tan,  Andrew Marko, Siti Maznah, Seong Hui Xuan, Venytha Yashiantini, Erwin Shah Ismail, Crenshaw Yeo, and Oliver Pang. With memorable characters, an inspirational story, and music that will make your heart sing, RENT is theatre at its best- exuberant, passionate, and joyous.

Tickets go on sale from 5 August 2016 on SISTIC.

RENT runs from 7 to 23 October 2016 at the Drama Centre Theatre.

[Theatre Review] The Reviewer Reviewed

Photo: 36frames/ Courtesy of W!ld Rice

Photo: 36frames/ Courtesy of W!ld Rice

n.b. I would like to inform my readers that I am currently a project-based intern with Checkpoint Theatre for their upcoming production, The Last Bull: A Life in Flamenco. However, I strongly believe that this does not affect the integrity of my critique. Views expressed are my own.

My Mother Buys Condoms

W!ld Rice, Singapore Theatre Festival 2016

24 July 2016, 3pm

Creative Cube, Lasalle College of the Arts

14 — 24 July 2016

Prior to watching My Mother Buys Condoms, I face a common problem that is familiar to any critic. Having accumulated a sleep debt, I was afraid of not being able to give it my full attention, and assess the best that I could. Playwright Helmi Yusof, who is also an established arts journalist and critic for The Business Times, makes my job easy by peppering his debut play with witty punch lines; puns on swear words; and hilarious comedy of errors sequences.

Unfortunately he offers little else, especially when it comes to exploring the sexuality of an older woman.

The set-up of Raju (Ramesh Panicker), an air-conditioner repairman, taking English classes from retired literature teacher Maggie (Lok Meng Chue) because he wants to read crime reports in the newspaper is improbable. Additionally, the acceleration of events to the point when both of them fall in love makes it seem as if Maggie loves Raju simply because he expresses an interest.

Such a shallow plot could be forgiven if Helmi intends for it to be a convenient device to give more space for Maggie to deal with the conflict between her desires and the social mores of society. Yet, when it comes to it, all Maggie does is to ask, “Why not?” She does not offer an argument, or try to show the flawed logic of her detractors. Instead, she is like a petulant child who asks why regardless of what is said to her.

Coupled with Wong Chee Wai’s intimate set and Julian Wong’s mawkish musical interludes, the feel of the whole show is reminiscent of a popular local ‘90s television sitcom, Under One Roof.

That said, one must not downplay the craft and skill of comedy. Helmi does have a neck for comedy, and this is enhanced by the actors’ (apart from leads, Elnie S. Mashari, Joshua Lim, and Seong Hui Xuan also deserve commendation) ability to keep the comical scenes snappy and energetic.

While My Mother Buys Condoms indicates an encouraging prospect of critics being able to traverse both sides of the footlights, it should not pretend to aspire more than what it is—a light diversion better suited for a variety show.

Other Reviews

“My Mother Buys Condoms: Let’s talk about sex and seniors” by Akshita Nanda, The Straits Times Life! 

“Grey Pride: A Review of ‘My Mother Buys Condoms’, by W!ld Rice” by Ng Yi-Sheng, The Online Citizen

“Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘My Mother Buys Condoms’ by Helmi Yusof” by Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam, Blog Critics.

“My Mother Buys Condoms: Love, Sex And Senior Citizens?” by Reuel Eugene, Reuel Writes.

“Sex, ageing, and the courage to be happy” by Alisa Maya Ravindran, Centre 42 Citizens’ Review

“My Mother Buys Condoms” by Dawn Teo, Centre 42 Citizens’ Review