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A sneak peek into Angkor: An Untold Story

November 14, 2013

Photo credit: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Event: Angkor: An Untold Story by Apsaras Arts as part of Esplanade’s Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts
Run: 15 & 16 Nov 2013, 8pm
Venue: Esplanade Theatre
Cast: Priyadarsini Govind (Vyjayanthi), C.K. Balagopal (Divakara Punditha), Sabanitha Shanmugasundram (Queen Suryavana)

Entering into a world of ancient mystery and fantasy, created with multimedia projections and movable props, this was what I was greeted with in a sneak peek into the 1st 3 acts of the opening show of Kalaa Utsavam, Angkor: An Untold Story.

Inspired by the royal portrait gallery of 1,795 women called as Devatas, that was rendered in stone within the temple of Angkor Wat, Angkor traces the story of how the largest Hindu temple in the world was built. It tells of the Khmer Queen Suryavana’s search for arts to quench the king’s thirst for war that brought the beautiful artisan Vyjayanti from the Chola Empire to the Khmer, but which results in a path of conflict that eventually ends in tragedy.
The dance drama is a culmination of Esplanade Co. and Apsaras Arts’ past collaborations, being the first large-scale production staged as part of this collaboration at the Esplanade Theatre, following a prelude Glimpses of Angkor that was staged in March. The dance drama was conceived over a period of 5 years, through research and groundwork to develop the story that is being performed.

Given the short 3 acts that I got to see, my first impression was the way the story was expressed through the gestures and body language. I’m not familiar with Indian dance drama, which comes from classical dance and for this, I believe is in bharatanatyam style. It is different from dances like ballet or contemporary (which is more abstract) in that expression and gestures were part of the storytelling, like a form of sign language. Although no speech (or at least in the acts I saw) was made, going by the synopsis, I could kind of follow the story even without surtitles, which was not available to me at the point of time. It was also heartening to see Neila prepping the cast and crew before the rehearsal with words of encouragement. The set was incomplete during the preview, but I can imagine that it will be impressive with the projections and the desire to create the Angkor Wat on stage. Unfortunately, I was not shown much of the dance that would be performed in the main body of the show. For those interested in classical Indian dance as a theatrical production, you can check out this show which opens tomorrow on 15 Nov.

If you’re interested in Angkor, you might be interested in other theatre productions in Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts which are C Sharp C Blunt and Girish Karnad’s Flowers, both to be performed in English.
In addition, from 15 – 17 Nov, the Esplanade Co. will also be presenting non-ticketed kathakali performances by India’s Margi Theatre at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre for all to enjoy. Kathakali is a highly stylished form of dance-storytelling that dates back to the 17th century, Kerala, India.

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