Established in 1952 by the late KP Bhaskar, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy has been keeping Indian dance and music alive and thriving in multiracial Singapore. The mission of the Academy is to create, present and promote Indian dance, music and theatre performances to domestic and international audiences. At least 3 major dance and music performances are staged every year.
Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’s Artistic Director Santha Bhaskar was awarded Singapore’s highest cultural accolade, the Cultural Medallion, in 1990, and the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in 2016. In 1968, she was even modelled for and was featured on a Singapore stamp!
Her daughter Meenakshy Bhaskar, who was awarded the Young Artiste Award in 1996 runs Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (California) in the US, and travels between California and Singapore choreographing original works in both places.
The Academy’s repertoire includes works based on the traditional sources for dance, such as the Ramayana, as well as non-Indian sources, such as Chinese folktales (Butterfly Lovers) and Thai mythological tales (Manohra). Santha Bhaskar sometimes chooses concepts and ideas instead of stories for her choreography, for example, when she used dance to interpret the philosophies of Vivekananda in “Chakra”, and her depiction of Buddhist concepts in “Nalanda”.
The Academy is also one of the few dance companies outside India to stage Kathakali performances, and has Kathakali artistes/teachers on its staff.
Bhaskar’s Arts Academy have also performed extensively overseas in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, China, India, Japan, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand. This is what Indian newspapers had to say about “Parinaamam” on its six-city tour of India:
“Choreographed by Mrs Santha Bhaskar the dance play held the audience spellbound as the young artistes from Singapore presented beautifully one scene after another.” - The Times of India, India
“Their presentation ‘Parinaamam’ today was sheer theatre magic….The artistic and graceful footwork by the dancers and mesmerising facial expressions left the audience thrilled….No doubt, Santha Bhaskar’s able direction and Ghanavenothan Retnam’s music appeased the cultural appetite of the Lucknowites….” - The Hindustani Times, India
KP Bhaskar believed that teaching traditional dance and music is as important as performing, in order to pass on these art forms to future generations. He started the Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society to conduct classes in traditional Indian dance and music. Today Nrityalaya conducts classes in Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Flute, Mridangam, Veena, Violin, as well as Hindustani and Carnatic Vocals.
Nrityalaya students are given opportunities to perform on stage to build their self-confidence, in the school’s performances – Sangitha Ankuram held every year, and Bala Nrityam/Ilayar Nadanam every 2 years. Students also perform in the quarterly Manjari, as well as other cultural shows at temple festivals or schools.
Dance students with potential are selected to be part of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy’s Core Dancers’ Programme, where they undergo intensive training to participate in the major productions. Similarly, music students are carefully selected and groomed in Bhaskar’s Swathi Orchestra, which is the Academy’s Youth Orchestra.
Santha Bhaskar herself conducts Bharatanatyam classes. The other Bharatanatyam teachers are:
Ambujah Thirunavukarasu, a Nrityalaya graduate, who joined the teaching faculty. She has done 2 solo shows “Nayika” (2000) and “Maatha” (2002). Ambujah’s choreographies include “Thirukutrala Kuravanji” in 2008, restaging of Santha Bhaskar’s Ramayana in 2012, and Bhairavi in 2014.
Neewin Hershall, a graduate of Kalakshetra, joined NAS in 2008. Neewin staged “Abhyas” (2013), a students’ programme in memory of the late KP Bhaskar. He also teaches yoga, and will be staging a solo performance, “Façade”, in 2017.
Dhana Bharathi Mokhanasundaram, Gayathiri Kandan Prakash, Hemalatha Sathasivam, Arulusha Anbalagan, Shruthilaya Ramachandran, Priyadarshini Nagarajah and Malini Bhaskar (Mrs Bhaskar’s granddaughter), are all graduates of NAS who have continued to teach at the school.
Kathak & Hindustani Vocals:
Pallavi Sharma is a graduate of Kathak Kendra in Delhi, and studied Hindustani Vocal at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi. Pallavi joined Nrityalaya in 2010. Her solo show “Aakanksha” (2011) drew much attention locally.
Kalamandalam Biju is a graduate of Kerala Kalamandalam in India. His Kathakali choreography includes “Thadaka Vadham” in Tamil, “Cherita Singapura” in Malay, “Lady Spiders” in Mandarin and the Shakespearean story “King Lear” in Malayalam. He has written and published a new Kathakali story, “Satyavathiparinayam” (2008) under the pen-name Vanamali. Based on the Mahabharatham, the story has been performed on different stages.
GP Ampili completed her M.Phil in music in Madurai Kamaraj University (Tamil Nadu). She started her Carnatic Vocal teaching career in Nrityalaya in 2003. In 2014, Ampili released her first solo album Poonkuyil.
Arasakumari Nagaradjane completed her M.Phil in music at Madras University. She has been teaching Carnatic Vocal at Nrityalaya since 2005. One of her students was awarded first place in National Arts Council’s National Indian Music Competitions in 2011.
Ghanavenothan Retnam is Singapore’s own renowned flautist and Young Artiste Award (1995) recipient. He has been teaching Flute at Nrityalaya for more than 20 years.
TV Sajith completed his M.A. in music at R.L.V College, Thirupunithura, and has been teaching Violin and Carnatic Vocal at NAS since 2007.
TK Arunkumar graduated from Chembai Government Music College in Kerala. He joined Nrityalaya in 2010 and teaches Veena and Vocal.
S HariKrishnan is a graduate of Kerala Kalamandalam where he passed with first class. He taught Mridangam in the Middle East and has participated in cultural programmes held in Bahrain, Switzerland and Malta. He has been teaching Mridangam and other percussion instruments at Nrityalaya since 2010.
Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society moved to their new premises on the fourth floor of Bras Basah Complex in Jun 2016.