Creative dances at Sutra  
by Ileana Citaristi, Bhubaneswar 

September 7, 2003 

‘Shéhérazade’, choreographer: Ramli Ibrahim, music:  Maurice Ravel 
‘ Undine’, choreographer: Ramli Ibrahim, music: Hanz Werner Hence 
‘ Spirit land’, choreographer: Ileana Citaristi, music: Igor Stravinsky 
Sutra Dance Theatre, Kuala Lumpur 
1st, 2nd, 3rd August 2003  

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the French-German Treaty of Friendship which in 1963 sealed the reconciliation between the two countries, the Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Institute of Kuala Lumpur joined hands with the Sutra Dance Theatre directed by Ramli Ibrahim, to organise this unique intercultural program of dance titled ‘Contes d’été-Summer Marchen (Summer tales), a creative collaboration of dancers of different nationalities and from different technical background (ranging from Bharat Natyam and Odissi to traditional Malay and modern dance). 

The first choreographic piece ‘Shéhérazade’ based on the operatic score by Maurice Ravel, is an abstract rendition of the exotic flavour suggested by the music. Performed by two females and two male dancers, the piece conjures images of mystery, intrigue, adventure and sensual pleasures through a subtle combination of exotic costumes, sensual movements and suggestive lights. Ramli uses the grace and sensuality of his two Malay female dancers, January and Tan Mei Mei, to its best; morbid circular movements from the Odissi idiom combined with angular and sharp ones from Malay and contemporary idiom, create exquisite and enchanting suggestions of contrasting emotions. Warm colours of lights, mainly orange and yellow tones, aptly handled by Sivarajan Natarajan, colourful ‘sarong’ creatively draped on the bodies of the dancers and few simple but effective props aptly complement the well crafted choreography. 

The second piece is a solo dance performed by Venezuelan dancer Judimar Munfils. Based entirely on contemporary vocabulary of movements, the work explores the two states of mind of the water sprite Undine after she is transformed into a human. At first she happily plays with her own shadow and enjoys her new condition, but at the end she dances her dance of sorrow for being deceived by her lover. The water like nature of the nymph is rendered with extreme fluidity by the dancer; the sub-human part of her character is expressed with effectiveness by the small jerky movements which permeate through out her dance. The music by contemporary German composer Hans Werner Henze, is highly romantic and suggestive; along with the bluish lights, the soft veiled costume of the dancer and her dream like movements, go along well in creating a fairy tale atmosphere. 

The third item and highlight of the evening is the choreography based on Stravinsky’s celebrated ballet ‘The Rite of Spring’ which was first choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky in Paris in 1913. The music is extremely unconventional in its approach to melody and rhythm; choosing to choreograph this piece in an idiom, which is not purely balletic or contemporary is a big challenge by itself. The idea of working on this piece came about when Ramli and I met in New Delhi last year to discuss fresh and innovative ideas to collaborate in new contemporary works for Sutra. When I proposed to him ‘The rite of spring’ Ramli immediately suggested a beautiful poem by Malaysian poet Usman Awang titled ‘Salam Benua’ (‘Salute to the continent’) as a source of inspiration for the choreography. I found the poem as challenging as the music; both being impregnated by strong images of life and death, excitement and pain, victories and defeats, calm and turmoil. It is with these images in mind that ‘Spirit land’ has taken shape; inspired by the inner compulsion of the music and the vivid reality depicted by the poem. 

It has been a rewarding experience working with the eight well trained dancers associated with Sutra; the fact that they were coming from different trainings, ranging from Bharat Natyam, Odissi, western contemporary, ballet and traditional Malay, helped me in developing new movements and to expand my exposure to other idioms. Although no particular Indian style has been utilised for the choreography, the attitude towards the music and the visualisation of it is strongly influenced by my exposure to Indian dance. I suppose it is the need to lean towards concrete images more than abstract suggestions that give the approach an Indian flavour. At times it was the rhythmic stamping on the floor of the Indian dancing which helped in creating the strong impact required by the music; other times were the elevations of the classical ballet which seemed more appropriate. The dim greenish lights which gave the stage a mood of stratospheric beauty  and the suggestive atmosphere of the open air amphitheatre surrounded by exotic plants of the Sutra Theatre contributed to add mystery to this ‘Spirit land’’ where  men-like-puppets  rejoice and suffer, win and loose, dream and die in a continuous unending cycle  of hope and despair. 
Ileana Citaristi is based in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. She is an exponent of Odissi and Mayurbhanj Chhau and is the artistic director of Art Vision.