Inner Space Dance Conversations
When: Odissi and Contemporary, Aug 3-4, Kathak, Aug 10-11 & Bharathanatyam, Aug 19-20. All shows at 8pm
Where: Shantanand Auditorium, TFA Brickfields
Call +60 3-2274 3709 for admission.
AFTER a 12-year hiatus, Inner Space’s performing wing is back on stage come August with weekends of dance.
“We thought we would take a break for six months to rest and recuperate but it just went on,” says well-known dancer-choreographer Umesh Shetty with a grin.
However, the years saw the performers then growing in knowledge with new talents unearthed as the Temple of Fine Arts carried on with its teaching syllabus. The time felt right for Umesh early this year to restart the wing, but he stresses that “the Inner Space Dance Company is the professional performing arts wing of TFA”.
“There are five full-time dancers with the company who are trained in three major Indian dance genres – kathak, bharathanatyam, odissi – as well as contemporary dance.
“This is exciting because not every dancer can say this.”
Full-time company dancers are TFA-trained Dr Dhanya Thurairajah, Hemavathi Sivanesan, and Shonabushani Velusamy, with Aswara-trained Ng Xinying, and Mohammad Khairi Mokhtar.
“It’s by Malaysians and for Malaysians.”
Umesh, 45, has been making waves with his inter-cultural and intra-cultural works for the past 20 years since returning from a performing arts degree in Australia. He himself is trained in bharatanatyam, odissi, kathakali and folk dance at the TFA, guided by both his father Gopal Shetty, a pioneer of Indian classical dance in Malaysia, and TFA founder Swami Shantanand Saraswathi. Umesh later trained in kathak with India’s Pandita Rohini Bhatte, Pandit Briju Maharaj and Saswati Sen. In Autralia, he trained and performed in western contemporary and classical ballet.
Currently a teacher and one of TFA’s directors, performing arts lovers may recall his choreography and performances in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lady White Snake, The Legend of Mahsuri, Swan Lake, Butterfly Lovers, Varsha and Inside Out, among others.
As the artistic director of the Inner Space Dance Company, Umesh says the dancers will push at the boundaries of traditional norms of dance creation and presentation without losing sight of the inspiration that Indian culture holds.
“It’s about creating new works while exploring well-loved themes and ideas in a totally original manner, breaking down perceptions and notions of what dance is.
“So, this August, you will see five dancers doing full repertoires in kathak, odissi, bharathanatyam and contemporary. Not a fusion of the genres but the authenticity in totality,” he explains at a chat at the TFA library room in Brickfields.
“It’s intense work, with four months of choreography followed by 2 months of rehearsals leading up to a show, every six months. That’s the plan.
“We hope to perform in Australia with a new commissioned work by year end,” he adds with a smile.
Dance for Umesh is more than the ‘how’ of a movement but also the ‘what’ behind it. “The process of making a choice in a movement, from the intellect to the physical, the emotional to the spiritual.
“After gaining the foundations in the genres of dance, it’s about what moves you.
“At the very heart, or inner space, of every dancer is that desire to use your deepest emotions, and nothing else, as the only language of your expression,” says the Kuala Lumpur native as he runs his fingers through his pepper-and-salt mane.
“Hence, the theme of the premiere — Inner Space Dance Conversations with… the dance genres.
“Usually the repertoire is concerned about the various sections, like in odissi it starts with mangalacharana, sthayee, pallavi, abhinaya, and then moksha. In the premiere show, there will be no stops between the sequences so it builds an awareness of the movements, of an expansion of the vocabulary within the genre.
“That’s what I am aiming for, with all the genres.”
He says he hopes the premiere of the dance company will help bring the classical Indian dances closer to a wider audience, as the bill crosses genre boundaries. “While kathak and bharathanatyam dances have a night’s performance to their genres, because of live music accompaniment, the odissi and contemporary repertoires will be performed in one night.”
The choreographers include himself, Mavin Khoo, James Kan, Paramita Maitra, Ng and Mohammad Khairi.
Guest artistes include Nadina Krishnan, N. Shree Vidya and Rohini Shetty.
“It is ultimately a group of performers who want to work and create inspiring and moving works of art together from the innermost centres of their beings and hopefully touch the inner space of the audience.”