Profile: Maya Dance Theatre

Published on 26 June 2017

Credit: Joseph Nair

Maya Dance Theatre shows how the classical can exist in a contemporary space.


Like the ‘illusion’ after which it is named, Maya Dance Theatre, in its bold merging of contemporary and traditional dance languages, has proven itself elusive and occasionally confounding. “Singapore tends to box us,” says one of its founders, creative director Kavitha Krishnan. “We are pushing the traditional and embracing the contemporary, and in a way, that was the gap we were trying to fill when we first opened in 2007.”

The Singapore troupe works with dancers skilled in contemporary forms and trains them in the traditional vocabulary of genres like Bharatanatyam (in which Krishnan was schooled). But the blurring of boundaries also translates to the presentation. Beyond dance, the company’s work is frequently infused with a dramatic energy, exploring stories and concepts through movement and highly theatrical design environments.

This artful mix was crucial from the very beginning. While dance may be her calling, Krishnan was exposed to theatre through her involvement with the late theatre-practitioner William Teo’s World in Theatre. It was there she met Juraimy Abu Bakar, Maya’s assistant director and choreographer, who brings a strong theatrical sensibility to the company’s productions.

Together with their company manager and producer Imran Manaff, Maya Dance Theatre has been staging cutting-edge intercultural work for the past decade, and has presented work in the region and farther afield.

Its repertoire is known for striking juxtapositions and bracing dance-theatre responses to contemporary issues. Last year, the company staged a dance-theatre response to the Syrian crisis. Titled Pancha: Murmurs in the Wind, it was a partial adaptation of the story of Gandhari from the Mahabharata, evoking the figure of the grieving mother as a way to mourn the genocide.

The show was the first instalment in an ongoing five-part series, Pancha, with each instalment exploring a different female archetype and natural element. This year’s instalment, When the Flames Blaze the Caged BodyI Surrender My SoulI Am… , centres on the figures of Joan of Arc and the Ramayana’s Sita. It explores the predicaments of women within a patriarchal system.

For Krishnan, the boundaries between classical and contemporary are arbitrary, and she enjoys the odd, hybrid state of her company’s output. “The moving body can be equally contemporary and traditional, it’s constantly evolving,” says Krishnan. “My body doesn’t carry the contemporary,” she adds, referencing her classical background, “but it exists in a contemporary space.”

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