Raka Maitra from CHOWK Productions( Singapore) presents a brand new piece of dance at Esplanade Theatre Studio under Esplanade’s Raga series of programmes showcasing Indian performing arts in dance, music and theatre throughout the year.
After selling out performances of The Second Sunrise at Da:ns Festival in October, Raka offers Pallavi in Time. A follow-up dance performance of Pallavi and Space with the classical Indian form Odissi.
‘Most of my works have a story line, but I wanted to do something with the grammar of the form I work with’.
For this occasion, Raka Maitra is studying the tribhanga, a basic pose -tri-bent pose in Odissi in the interest of Pallavi being an elaboration of the raag rhythms. Looking back into the last two performances from the company, I remember the dancers giving out an emotionally charged performance to the audience. Notably in ‘The Second Sunrise’ when the ensemble was exploring poetry that responds directly to the war in Sri Lanka.
This time around, upon seeing a rehearsal at Chowk studios I was surprised by seeing an exceptional commitment to the dance technique and its many rhythms. The dancers looked euphoric and connected to one another discussing the ins and outs of the dance with both the musicians and choreographer. A terrific afternoon of live music and dance.
‘Pallavi in Time is all about the grammar of the dance.’
‘In the first part, I just wanted to take one of the postures, the Chauk, which is one of the basic postures of Odissi and I wanted to explore space with it.’ Raka confessed that Pallavi in Time is about the technique, the rhythm and crucially dance. Apparently, it has no clear story or narrative. Instead, they work simply with the rhythm and the vocabulary used in Raka’s contemporary work.
What is your relationship with rhythm?
It’s imperative for us, and it’s like the heartbeat. I think that’s the main thing in our dance: how the body responds and plays with the first, the second and third speeds. How do you build it up and come back to the 1st speed?
What did you find most challenging in this creative process?
Every work is the most challenging. I never look back; I don’ even watch my videos. I try to forget what I have done to create something fresh. Everyone has a style, but I try consciously not to repeat and not to look back.
Most challenging is also sticking to one form, the tribaang, tradition Pallavi has a pattern and trying to break that pattern and keeping the form while playing with the rhythms.
I am looking at the style of Odissi and not a Pallavi with traditional music, using a theatrical instrument instead of what one sees traditionally in a Pallavi.
‘I changed my technique for contemporary work entirely, people that watch Odissi sometimes don’t see it in my works.’
Perhaps this is one of the most interesting aspects of Raka’s work in the landscape of contemporary dance in Singapore and rather a great contribution that stimulates audiences and brings people to the theatre. The mere fact of using a classical dance form and changing it in the studio to develop a new choreographic approach. The proposition is not simple at all. Fighting with one’s tradition while discovering it’s possibilities in a new arena such as contemporary dance is a stimulating and sometimes a frustrating job.
However, Raka Maitra keeps evolving and expanding. The single fact that she never looks back into her previous works, and keeps on exploring specific aspects of dance in the choreography are letting the company accumulate a very exciting and impressive dance repertoire where one can identify the progress and enquiry of the in-house choreographer throughout multiple dance productions.
In the many weekends, I spend in the theatre watching dance and discussing it; many practitioners bring the topic of a signature style for each company. One may not agree that this subject is important for the dance companies. However when this signature style becomes a clear identity explored across different repertoire it becomes evident where one wants to head, it creates a lineage, and an impressive audience follows up.