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This one-night only dance performance sees the combined efforts of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts. IMAGES: BHASKAR’S ARTS ACADEMY

Must-Watch: This Cross-Cultural Show Recounts The Legend Of Heroic Princess Radin Mas

Are you familiar with Radin Mas? I mean, the legendary Javanese princess, not the neighbourhood or school of the same name. No? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Apparently, not many Singaporeans know that a rich legend lies behind the name.

Come 14 Oct, you can discover the tale through a vibrant dance performance by Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts. For one night only, they will present a captivating cross-cultural portrayal through Bharatanatyam (the classical Indian dance form) and Javanese dance. The performance will also feature wayang kulit (Javanese shadow puppetry), poikkal kuthirai aatam and kuda kepang (the latter two unique horse dances from Tamil and Javanese cultures).

If you’ve never seen a classical Indian or Javanese dance performance, this staging is a wonderful starting point. Both art forms are enchanting blends of traditional storytelling, with every graceful movement and intricate gesture narrating a tapestry of emotions. The Radin Mas story has all the elements for rich artistic dramatisation.

“It is a story of jealousy and how it can lead to tragedy if taken too far,” explains Meenakshy Bhaskar, Artistic Director of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy.

Meenakshy Bhaskar, Artistic Director of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy. | IMAGE: BHASKAR’S ARTS ACADEMY

Meenakshy is the daughter of the late Indian dance doyenne and Cultural Medallion recipient Santha Bhaskar. A pioneer in multicultural performances, Santha was among the first to collaborate with different cultural groups in the 1950s. One of her early landmark works was “The Butterfly Lovers”, inspired by the 1958 Chinese movie of the same title, which combined Indian music and dance with Chinese costumes.

The staging of “Radin Mas” is particularly poignant for Meenakshy, who choreographed it in collaboration with Singapore’s premier Malay dance choreographer Som Said, a great friend of her mother who passed away in February 2022.

We talk to Meenakshy about why this performance will regale a new generation of audiences and compel them to discover the splendid appeal of traditional dance forms.

Why did you decide to stage the story of Radin Mas?

I don’t think it was a conscious decision to stage this particular thing. It just caught our eye, and we decided to go with it. It’s maybe a story that’s well known in the Malay community, but I think unless you’re from Radin Mas school, none of the other children know what the story is about. Even people my age don’t know there was such a thing. I thought it was a place. Radin Mas is actually a girl. I think it’s good to do something that’s local and to help the community learn more about the history.

How did it come to you?

We were in discussions about what to do and I wanted to collaborate with a Malay group this year. We had a few other suggestions, but this was something that caught my attention. It has a lot of dramatic elements in it. It’s about a strong young girl. It also has a lot of morals about the repercussions of actions. It’s a story of jealousy and how it can lead to tragedy if you take it too far.

What are some of the dramatic elements?

We are dramatising the burning of her mother for the fire dance. If you know the legend, the sultan was upset that his son had married a dancer. In royalty, marriages were always based on diplomacy, and there was no diplomacy in marrying a dancer. So that’s a pretty dramatic scene.

We also have a very dramatic set which is different for us. We have thus far relied on only good dancing and lights. This time we are working with sets, which is very new for Bhaskar’s. I think Sri Warisan and other local groups are well versed with using sets, but this is the first really big set we’ve worked with, and it sparked so many ideas for me.

How do you think this will draw a younger audience?

Because this is a historical story, we are reaching out and trying to inform schools about it. We are hoping to get some school students in the audience because they are the generation that needs to know about these stories… and maybe pull them away from their devices. They have become a TikTok community, with a one-minute attention span. There are other ways to capture your interest and, hopefully, we can capture them with our production, with creative storytelling and where the arts can lead you.

What are some elements that new audiences should look out for?

I think what is particularly special are the two horse dances — the Javanese kuda kepang and the Indian poikkal kuthirai. Both are folk traditions and have similar histories. They are both very hypnotic and trance dances, so we are using elements of that in our show, along with the majestic-looking props and costumes. This is the first time we have used poikkal kuthirai in a dance format.

How did you weave in the various dance forms to create this performance?

The choreography was done side by side. We each came with choreographed pieces and then said, “How can we use this and modify this? How can we work your ideas and culture into the piece? Is this respectful to your culture?” It’s going to be such a blend of the two cultures. It’s quite organic how this has happened.

What was it like working with Madam Som?

We’ve worked with Sri Warisan for many years and we’ve held workshops together, but we’ve never really performed together. Madam Som and I my mum shared stages (in the past). The relationship was long-standing, and she’s a dear friend of my late mother. They respected and loved each other very much.

I move a lot with intuition, so working with Madam Som was an intuitive thing. I’m really grateful that I chose that because it meant a lot to her that we reached out so close to my mother’s passing (to ask her to) do a show. She didn’t even ask what we were working on when I called up. It was just “Yes!”

Why only one night?

That’s all we can afford! (laughs) Theatre costs are so expensive and it’s also hard capturing audiences.

Performers of “Radin Mas” during a rehearsal for the one-night-only show. | IMAGE: BHASKAR’S ARTS ACADEMY

Radin Mas runs on 14 Oct (Sat), 7.30pm at Victoria Theatre. Tickets at $25 and $30 are available here. The show will be performed in English and Tamil, with subtitles provided.

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