Following the stunning performance of the Outreach Programme dancers in Sutra’s latest stage offering, Triple Frontiers, GoodNews reached out to the Sutra Foundation and met up with legendary dance choreographer Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, 67, and his dancers to find out more about dance and its future.
Ramli said one should listen to their internal calling, when it came to dance.
“All of us have got our angin (inclinations)- our inherent temperament that we must heed.”
“Listen to that inherent desire and talent,” added Ramli who is also the founder of Sutra Dance Theatre.
Ramli, who has contributed immensely to the local and international arts scene, also said that it was important to pay heed to this internal call, at the risk of leading an unfulfilled life.
Established 8 years ago in 2013, the Sutra Foundation Outreach Programme, provides formal dance training to youths aged 6 to 15.
In focusing on imparting the physical and mental benefits of formal dance training, Sutra’s Outreach programme has been guiding and nurturing youths outside city centres, while providing early exposure to the unique beauty of Indian Classical Dance.
This has a twofold purpose- to discover new talent, and to empower them spiritually and emotionally, thus cultivating the next generation of dancers, while empowering the youths to act as cultural bridges for their communities.
Geethika Sree, 27, a senior artist in Sutra, told GoodNews that the Outreach programme served as a way of making sure the young was exposed to their roots and culture.
At the same time, she said, Odissi in Malaysia needed more youth participation so that it doesn’t just die off with them.
She expressed hope that she, along with her fellow dancers, could encourage more of youth to take it on.
Other dancers in the room, Tan Mei Mei, 42, Harenthiran Pulingam, 36, and Vanizha Vasanthanathan, 28, nodded in agreement.
Navvinesh Ranjendar Chander, 15, who was among the first batch of dancers who joined the outreach programme in 2013, got his first glimpse of Odissi via his schoolmates.
Overhearing some of his schoolmates talking about Odissi, which was described as “a dance like Bharathanatyam”, he decided to join in the classes held at SJK (T) Ladang Sungai Choh and see it for himself.
As he learned, and watched the senior dancers, his interest and passion for dance grew.
When asked about his experience as a dancer, specifically as a male dancer, Navvinesh described his first performance as a male dancer as “scary” as he found it difficult, to learn the steps.
That changed soon enough as the dance steps and mudras (hand gestures or symbols made during a dance) started becoming easier.
Mei Mei added that Navvinesh has had the perfect form of chauka (an Odissi stance where the dancer’s weight is distributed equally on both sides, translating literally into ‘square’) since day one.
Kirtana Sukumaran, 16, who has a background in Bharatanatyam and Odissi, joined the Odissi lessons after seeing posters advertising the Outreach programme at the Sri Subramanyar Temple in Kuala Selangor, around the same time as Navvinesh.
When classes at Kuala Selangor were discontinued, rather than call it a day, Kirthana instead began making the one-hour drive (with the help of her father) from Kuala Selangor to Titiwangsa on a weekly basis to attend classes.
This soon led to her joining the Bharatanatyam classes held in Sutra and at 16, she is now one of the senior students in the Outreach programme.
It is clear to see just how dance has impacted Navvinesh and Kirthana.
Their confidence in their talent and their awareness of the legacy and tradition that they carry forward, is encouraging.
Navvinesh’s sister has also joined Odissi lessons through the outreach programme and when asked who the better dancer was, there was a short pause before a cheeky, “me.”
Kirthana’s development as a dancer is progressing quickly as at 16, she has moved on from student to occasionally teaching dance classes at Sutra. Their confidence and passion for the dance is equally visible as they discuss favourite compositions from Triple Frontiers, and in the way their eyes light up as they listen to the senior dancers discuss techniques and talent.
When asked what they would have to say to budding young dancers, Navvinesh advised young dancers, especially boys, to not be shy to dance and that boys can dance as well as girls.
Kirthana simply urged the young dancers to join Sutra and join her classes.
If these two, along with their classmates are anything to go by, it is clear that the Outreach programme has achieved all that it aimed to do and more in cultivating the next generation of talented and passionate young dancers.