Aravinth Kumarasamy spent much of his young life fleeing war and conflict, with dance and music his only constants in the tumult.
Published on 5 January 2017
While many of us in Singapore regard stories of war and displacement as foreign fables, Agathi – Apsaras Arts’ new dance drama about the plight of refugees – is based on company director Aravinth Kumarasamy’s own refugee experience.
Kumarasamy was considered a child prodigy in his native Sri Lanka, touring the country to sing, play music, and dance from the age of ten. However, in 1983, the civil war saw his family home burnt down by security forces. His family was forced to flee to a refugee camp in Colombo where they lived for over two months, before settling in the eastern part of Sri Lanka. It is here where Kumarasamy made his Bharathanatyam dance debut, accompanied by his sister who sang. “Music and dance got me quickly into the community, and it healed me,” he says. However, it was not long before his family’s new home was bombed by the Indian Peace-Keeping Forces and they left for Chennai to start from scratch again.
Kumarasamy continued performing, even completing a degree in music and excelling enough to be offered places in both Berkeley and Stanford. However, with no home country or funding, his visa application was denied, and finally he and his family made their way to Singapore.
Almost 30 years later, Kumarasamy is now creative director of Apsaras Arts. He’s travelled the world performing, composing, choreographing and otherwise collaborating with various artists, and earned numerous accolades including a Young Artist Award and recognition from the Mayor of Croydon for his contributions to Indian dance.
Today, he uses art to remind audiences not to forget the many who continue to lose everything they have because of conflicts throughout the world. He conceptualised, and art directed dance drama Agathi, which features a music score based on the poetry of well-known Tamil poets as well as translations by Niranjan Bharathi of poems from the UN Refugee Agency-published A Book of Poems: Expressions from our Youth.