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Rasa Unmasked

RASA UNMASKED presented by Lingalayam Dance Company -Australia with Sutra Dance Theatre – Malaysia at The Studio at the Sydney Opera House.

“Rasa is produced when man comes into contact with Life. His reactions to life stimuli are reflected on his many facial expressions and body language. The sum total of his ‘rasas’ produces the mask, the face of his highest ideal: of Man and also his God. ”THE NINE RASAS: WONDERMENT; LOVE; VALOUR; COMPASSION; LAUGHTER; DISGUST; TERROR; ANGER; SERENITY. In dance the story of the Courtesan, Nayika and the Hero, Nayak is told.

These two companies one from Australia led by Anandavalli, and the other, Malaysian, led by Ramli Ibrahim have devised and workshopped a new way of dancing this story with the composer Alex Dea. I am no expert of the form, but from the discussion which followed the performance, these three artists, over the past year have devised, and in two brief three week workshops with the dancers created a new musical schemata and combined different dance traditions to create a new, an essentially, contemporary take on the story and form. To me the 8o minute dance piece had all the entrancing exoticism of both India and Malaysia (ie for me Balinese-Indonesian form and music.) To the knowledgeable or the purists, it seems, there could be some real cultural controversy at the new forms and/or liberties RASA UNMASKED has taken. RASA UNMASKED is subtitled: Celebrating Australia, Malaysia and India Relations, and it is after premiering in Australia, to tour to Malaysia, Singapore and India.

Six young and beautiful dancers are joined by the choreographer / dancers in expediting a technique and story that is entirely enchanting and had for me a clarity of story and beauty. The choreography was fluid and culturally intricate. The arms, hands and fingers, delicate and mesmerising. The familiar leg patterns etc. The faces, too, a joy to watch. Accompanied by a live orchestra Aruna Parthibhan and Bala Sankar and Alex Dea, the sounds were hauntingly smooth and contemplative. The mastership of the musical intricacies was discussed after the performance and charged me to reflect more accurately at what I had experienced. This was true of the cultural delicacies the choreographers invested in the creation of the work as well. The young dancers: Navamani Krishnamoorthy, Abriami Srikanta,Seran Sribalan (from Australia) and Guna, January Low, Rathimalar (from Malaysia) were especially fascinating and moving. The costumes and props were so poignant in their exoticism, that, being transported to another world, was easy. Ramli Ibrahim, dancing the Hero (Nayak) had all the dignity and centred meditative power to support the journey. Whilst with the work of Anandavalli, time as caught her and there is only the internal power of her life contemplation that is still really present, expressed through the glowing intensity of her eyes and gentle hand movements, but the body physical expressions have become limited. It would have been more appropriate, perhaps, to have one of the younger dancers in the central role of the Courtesan (Nayika). It was hard not to be concerned by the demands made on the dancer.

This is an original work that connects to the Ancient traditions of worlds past and interpreted for the present. This is an international co-operation and exchange that reflects the strong and deep connections with the heritage of the world of Asia that surrounds Australia. It has been contrived as a gift to the mother cultures from this young and hybrid one. An enterprise that needs to be encouraged and developed.

It is interesting to note in the program both these companies “acknowledge the on the ground support extended by the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) in all the countries where RASA UNMASKED is touring.” AUSTRADE and its masters sees a good deal when it appears. The arts acting as a cultural bulwark for trade relations for the Australian Government, I guess. The Australia Council for the Arts and Arts NSW have also been acknowledged for support. One wonders how deeply the enterprise was supported. When you hear and then realise that these two companies could only afford two three week workshop meetings, and then remember the level of beauty and expertise that has been achieved, you may wish that this work was funded more liberally to even further enhance the work and deepen the artistic possibilities for our Culture as ambassador for trade relations or whatever else that might be good for Government, and, by the way, the cultural life of Sydney and the greater Australia. But as usual the artists subsidise with their passions and skills what was not there from funding to have.

RASA UNMASKED was a dance of work of admirable achievement in many more ways than just dance. Keeping an eye on its reception in the visited countries will be intriguing. Controversy and maybe protest was muted as a possibility by some of the audience at Sunday’s performance.

Playing in Malaysia, Singapore and India throughout April. Bookings available online.