We catch up with the four dancers of ‘Tripundra – The Embodiment of The 9’ by VK Arts Ltd for a chat on what to expect from the non-profit organization’s maiden production.

Come Saturday, 1 July 2017, VK Arts Ltd will be staging its first production at The Substation. Dubbed Tripundra, the production will encompass dance, drama and music in line with the முத்தமிழ் ideology (இயல், இசை, நாடகம்). ChutneySG speaks to the Tripundra team – Sherene Jeevitha Joseph, Ranjithaa Kalaivasan, Arasi Nathan and Natasha Mohan – to find out more about the inspiration behind VK Arts Ltd and what the audience can expect from Tripundra.

1. Tell us more about how VK Arts Ltd came about.

Natasha: VK Arts Ltd is a newly registered non-profit organization that was founded by Sherene, Ranjithaa, Arasi and myself earlier this year. It is the teaching and performing wing of Vasantha Kasinath Kala Nilayam, the dance school we all graduated from. Through this wing, we aim to carry on the name of our guru, Natya Acharya Mani Smt. Vasantha Kasinath and bring it to greater heights through our skill sets and fresh ideas.

How did VK Arts Ltd come about? We were four hungry young women looking for a challenge and an opportunity to dance. We finished our arangetrams a few years back and we all viewed our arangetram as the beginning of our dance journey. Despite being full time professionals or students, we wanted to pursue dance as we had the passion and desire to contribute to the local arts scene. At this juncture, it is important for me to emphasise that we are part-timers. We do not do this for a living. We do this purely out of passion. Also, we wanted to create a platform for part-time dancers who want to continue dance amidst their busy schedules.

2. How will Tripundra break away from the typical expectations of a Bharathanatyam production?

Arasi: Singapore based Indian classical dancers have the tendency to associate bharathanatyam with the Kalakshetra style. However, the four of us are Pandanallur style trained bharathanatyam dancers. Many people are actually unaware of this style. Our Guru, Natya Acharya Mani Smt. Vasantha Kasinath was trained in this style. In that sense, Tripundra will break away from “typical expectations” through this style.

Apart from the dance itself, the team is also focused on ensuring that the audience is not lost in the sanchari bhava (not everyone understands the abinaya and mudras involved). As such, we have included interludes to ensure that people can understand the story. This way, they will be able to better appreciate the dance form. In order to convey the emotions for one or two rasas, we have delved into different concepts instead of performing a pure bharathanatyam piece. You’ll have to wait and find out what they are come Saturday!

3. What does Tripundra mean?

Sherene: Tripundra is coined from an appellation given to Lord Shiva – tripundrakaya. The term refers to the three lines on his forehead created using sacred ash. Those three lines symbolise the three worlds that he rules. They also indicate the different levels of consciousness of the human mind. Therefore, as an indirect representation of the human mind, Lord Shiva is the best embodiment of the nine emotions humans are capable of. Anyone who adorns the three lines on their forehead are representing him too. The stories in Tripundra surround him and his family who were some of the first to depict the three lines on their foreheads and thus symbolising the various rasas.

4. Are you concerned about the possible backlash from people who think that bharathanatyam should be kept “pure”?

Sherene: I would be lying if I said no. However, I was sure of why certain elements were added to our dance – purely for the sake of enhancement. We do have a bit of folk and contemporary dance aspects in the expression of certain rasas. These have only been added to enrich the mood and expression of the rasas. Backlash? Ultimately, it is bharathanatyam that is our foundation, training and thought process. Anything additional is only an exploration for the sake of enhancement.

If there is some form of backlash, I would like to hear constructive criticism so that we can improve ourselves and not biased opinions.

5. This is VK Arts Ltd’s first production. How has sourcing for sponsorship been like?

Arasi: We applied for a few grants and thankfully received some from the National Arts Council, Arts Fund, Presentation & Participation Grant and National Youth Council. It sounds like we have received a lot of monetary support from the aforementioned. However, we were only given a minimal amount since Tripundra is our first production and we do not have enough credentials to back us up. We would have received more monetary support if we were established. Nevertheless, the financial support we have received has definitely been useful. Words cannot describe how thankful we are!

Sponsorship is a different ball game altogether. It is not based on credentials, experience or write-ups that can spruce up our “application”. Sponsorship is based on the market and whether the respective organization has profited enough from its trade in order to sponsor. Moreover, we do not have the IPC status yet. As such, donating to or sponsoring our production would not be of benefit to anyone. Perhaps we did not knock on the right doors as we are first timers. Having said that, my dancers and I did take a lot of effort to write in for grants and sponsorships. We only received sponsorship from two organizations that truly wished to support the local arts scene.

On the other hand, we were rejected by some of the organizations we approached. When we asked them for the reason behind the rejection, they provided similar reasons. They had either incurred a loss in their own business and therefore were unable to help us or they just didn’t do sponsorships. It’s all about the market at the end of the day. It was disheartening to have received less monetary support than we expected but we are very much thankful to everyone who has been helping us in many other non-monetary ways.

When people tell us, “You are young and passionate people who want to grow the art. If we don’t help you, who will?”, nothing is more heartwarming and encouraging than that. These people make all our efforts worth it. This love and kindness we have received along the way has made this dance journey a more meaningful and beautiful one.

6. Is the Indian classical dance scene in Singapore thriving?

Natasha: Contrary to popular belief, the Indian classical dance scene in Singapore is very much alive and thriving! There are many organisations and dance companies that are very active in terms of teaching and putting up shows. It is in fact heartwarming to see the upcoming generation actively participating to keep the Indian classical dance scene alive with many productions, shows, new efforts and concepts. Some of these even address pressing or controversial issues present in our society today.

7. What do you think the future holds for traditional Indian art forms in Singapore?

Natasha: As much as some people would like to assume that the youth today are leaning more towards Western dance forms, it is my opinion that the future is bright for the various Indian traditional art forms in Singapore. This is because more students and even parents are keen on motivating their children to learn something traditional in order to keep our culture alive. Moreover, the competitive nature of Singaporeans and our prevailing culture of holistic excellence will definitely contribute to the bright future of Indian traditional art forms here.

8. How do you juggle the demands of family, work and dance?

Ranjithaa: It has been a difficult period for all of us since we are only part-time dancers and each of us is at a different stage of life. Time management was definitely a challenge for all of us. Nevertheless, we learnt to prioritise our different duties within the given time frame. For instance, during the examination period, my focus was on my studies. Hence I had to take a break during that span of time. Nearing the day of the production, many sacrifices had to be made – family events and other social gatherings had to be given a miss. At the end of the day, it is ultimately my passion for dance that has allowed me to overcome these challenges.

Tickets for both the 2.30pm and 7pm shows of ‘Tripundra – The Embodiment of The 9’ have been sold out.

All images courtesy of VK Arts Ltd.

Written by Uma Nathan

Full-time sub-editor. Part-time writer, copywriter, and editor all rolled into one. Photography, travel, food, reading and teaching take up whatever time remains.

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