Marabu – The First Ripple by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy is co-choreographed by Santha Bhaskar, Ajith Bhaskar and theatre director G Selva, presented through the confluence of Bharatanatyam, Tamil Theatre as well as Carnatic and Gamelan music. This special combination of an original music score, composed by Dr Rajkumar Bharathi, and narrative alongside Bharatanatyam presents a unique story, unachievable with dance alone.
It transports me back in time to the zenith of the Srivijaya Kingdom, where I journey with the protagonist, played by Sembian Somasundaram M, through loss and self-discovery. I remember one of the most tender scenes when Sembian lost his wife and child during a tragic war. A war that resulted from the greed of a neighbouring Empire, Chola, to conquer Srivijaya and gain naval trade monopoly. Sembian collapses on stage left, with his robes drenched in red, hopelessly clutching a blood-stained cloth and wailing in distress. The dancers drew this scene to an even higher climax with their faultless facial expressions of grief and loss. My heart ached and I wished that I was able to reach out to them in an attempt to ease their pain.
I feel so helpless as I watch Sembian try to come to terms with the loss of his family. Just as he is about to take his life, a group of monks stumbles onto him. They persuade Sembian to give up the notion of suicide and follow them to Nalanda, a revered Buddhist monastery. The monks told Sembian that there is a reason why he survived the war and the journey to Nalanda will aid him in rediscovering his purpose in life. A few years pass, and I see Sembian transform into a calmer and wiser person. He is sent by the Head Monk of Nalanda to see the King of the Chola Empire. I feel hopeful for Sembian who does not hold any anger nor resentment against the King. Instead, he assists the King in overseeing the building of numerous Hindu and Buddhist temples (Bhujang Valley) in present-day Kedah, Malaysia.
With loss comes empathy. Sembian accompanied by the sculptor and the villagers, gaze in awe at the magnificence of the temples built. On the “Temple” grounds, dancers stamped their feet effortlessly to the rhythm while maintaining expressive and light upper-bodies. Their rhythmic connection to the music is wonderful, coupled with the ending of a young girl exploring the Hindu and Buddhist temples that were built side by side, that reminds me of Singapore. Specifically, the Hindu and Buddhist temples that are side by side on Waterloo Street.
As I leave the theatre, I read the story of ethnic rifts in Bolivia I am saddened by such news. Sometimes, I forget how blessed I am to have grown up in Singapore. I do not have to look behind my shoulder when I walk home at night, but others may not have that luxury. Yet I am hopeful for the betterment of the future.