PURSUING CULTURAL DIVERSITY IN CLASSICAL DANCE

Sabanitha Shanmugasundaram

One of the most recognizable art forms in Asia is classical dance. Visible across the world is a hybridization of culture as personal contributions to discourses, which are constantly innovated. The art of Bharatanatyam is no exception, with the Indian dance practice presenting its global evolution. Sabanitha Shanmugasundaram attributes her developments in classical Bharatanatyam to her travels and multi-cultural identity. A performance artist, choreographer, curator and media personality, the dancer’s heritage emerges as a third generation Singaporean with Sri Lankan roots. Naturally, dance practices associated with her name are known for their diverse and composite nature of universality.

The influence of moving across the world may be responsible for a diversification of perspective, allowing people to look to their own culture with an expansive lens. In London, Sabanitha’s career of seventeen years flourished in Bharatanatyam dance. In practice from the age of six, the intensive discipline began with guru Meela Satyalingam. “You’re thrown into the deep end; either you survive and make it as an individual, and pursue this art form, or take a step back. I chose to do something with it”. Sabanitha worked with numerous art associations including Artasia in the United Kingdom. Wanting to stimulate the South Asian dance talent base in London during the 1990s, she began networking out of her base in Singapore, setting in motion an international series of original work in music and script.

International trajectories have mobilized Sabanitha’s routes as a citizen of the world. The differences in her professional industries have come to inform each other. Towards the end of her tenure in London, Sabanitha staged an acclaimed adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. The interpretation used Bharatanatyam and Kathak, another form of classical dance. Sabanitha’s early studies expanded at the Kalakshetra Foundation, a renowned dance institute in Chennai, India. “Meela exposed us to the greatest exponents of dance, such as Bridhju Maharaj. That practice of hers was crucial in our development and subsequently as independent artists”. Directing four productions in London, Sabanitha relocated to Singapore, where she would continue visiting her teacher. She then worked with Esplanade, Singapore’s leading arts and culture venue, understanding the importance of developing talented youth. “A lot of young adults want to creatively carve something for themselves in the industry. But it’s not just enough to go out there and dance alone. You need to do more than what requires a stellar performance. One needs to comprehend upon the manner in which he or she is to find a space. How do you break into the industry? There is a lot of competition, and the art scene is constantly evolving. One must ponder upon how one is to create something new that is different from their peers”. The questions and analyses reflect Sabanitha’s attitude in creating a stimulating environment and a global standard for cultural diversity in artistic practice.

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15th August, 2018 Art | Pop Culture & Art

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