V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
Ms Meenakshy Bhaskar's first major assignment as the new artistic director at Bhaskar's Arts Academy (BAA) is to oversee the smooth staging of Yantra Mantra.
The 40-minute production, mainly in the Bharatanatyam vernacular, is an enactment of an ancient ritual performed in Hindu temples where dancers pay obeisance to the nine celestial custodians that guard the eight directions and the centre of the earth.
"Yantra Mantra is about praying for healing in a world that is in pain," Ms Meenakshy, 59, told tabla!
"Yantra is a geometric diagram used to aid meditation. The geometric patterns created by dancers while using their feet, hands and body help ward off negative forces.
"Mantra are sacred chants which are believed to cleanse and heal."
The performance was commissioned by Arts House as part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2022's two-hour Ceremonial Enactments, which also features Singaporean companies MAX.TAN and Nadi Singapura.
Yantra Mantra forms Act III of the resplendent tapestry of local customary rituals told with a contemporary twist.
"SIFA first commissioned it to my mum and then to me. She started the work and I continued it," said Ms Meenakshy.
"Ceremonial Enactments is about rituals and our part is about healing rituals."
Ms Meenakshy's mother, Indian classical dance doyenne Santha Bhaskar, died on Feb 27. The artistic director at BAA was 82.
"Bhaskar's is moving in the direction my mother planned for us and we will continue forward with her vision," said Ms Meenakshy, who is also adviser to BAA's teaching wing Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society.
"I am supposed to move to Singapore in 2023-2024 to gradually start leading the organisation here. My mother's passing just fast-tracked the process."
Ms Meenakshy will continue to run the BAA in California with the help of senior students and will shuttle between Singapore and the United States to oversee matters.
According to her, Yantra Mantra is a special creation because it's not something usually attempted by choreographers.
"The tendency is to do either the Navagraha Kritis (a set of nine songs composed by Muttuswami Dikshitar, a great composer of Carnatic music) or the Navasandhi Kavuthuvams (music and dance for worship) and even then, just one of the nine parts is selected," she said.
"In this work, not only have we superimposed the Kritis and Kavuthuvams, but we're also doing all nine.
"The audience can look forward to a vibrant and dynamic music and dance performance and the creative use of space. It's also different because of the set design and costumes.
"The collaborative aspect, where the contemporary ideas are superimposed on our piece, is the brainchild of the festival director Natalie Hennedige."
Nine dancers and eight musicians will present Yantra Mantra, which forms part of BAA's 70th anniversary celebrations this year.
"Our line-up of various celebratory events will continue with a bang, as it has been since my mother passed, and just as she had requested," said Ms Meenakshy.
"She planned the year-long celebrations in every aspect before her passing."
The 70th anniversary celebrations started with the Sangeetha Sapthathi event in February.
Scheduled over the coming months are an eight-day annual festival Bhaskareeyam, several Prasaantham events where upcoming artists showcase their talents, launch of commemorative books for children and adults, and arangetrams (debut solo full-length performance given by a student).
What: Yantra Mantra by Bhaskar's Arts Academy as Act III of Ceremonial Enactments
When: May 21and 22, 7.30pm
Where: Esplanade Theatre
Tickets: $58, $48, $38 (limited concessions available for students, NSFs and seniors). Tickets can be bought at tickets.sifa.sg