Aravinth Kumarasamy, the artistic director of Apsaras Arts, is all geared up to showcase his passionate performance in Anjaneyam - Hanuman’s Ramayana, the curtain raiser performance for Kalaa Utsavam 2017.
Kalaa Utsavam, Singapore’s annual Indian festivals of arts, in its 15th edition, is bringing tp the audience the life and adventures of Hanuman in its show. Anjaneyam – Hanuman’s Ramayana is co-produced by Esplanade and Apsaras Arts. The story told through dance and music starts from the time of Hanuman’s birth, to his meeting with the exiled Prince Rama, and to the heroic battle against Ravana and his forces.
A driven Aravinth, who is trained in Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music, believes in giving an aesthetically pleasing experience to the audience. Connected to India (CtoI) caught up with the director about the performance in Kalaa Utsavam 2017.
CtoI: Apsaras arts is been associated with Kalaa Utsavam for several years now. What does that mean for the company and the artistes?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: Kalaa Utsavam is an Indian art festival and over the years it has become an international festival. And it’s the only Indian festival in this part of the world outside India. So, for Apsaras Arts, it does gives a lot of opportunities to work on new creative ideas and also to push our standards to an international level.
CtoI: What has changed over the years and what remains the same?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: What remains the same is the interesting programming for all ages, every taste of Indian arts. What has changed over the years is we have a lot of homegrown artists who have been collaborating with their counterparts in India. That has changed as years have gone by.
CtoI: This year in Kalaa Utsavam you are performing Hanuman. Why did you choose him?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: Our idea is to tell the story of the Ramayana. And we are looking to tell the story from a South East perspective and we are looking for a narrative well known in India as well as Indonesia. Also, we wanted to have a different take on Ramayana. So, we thought it’ll be interesting to see it from another character’s life point of view. Hanuman is a popular character not in India but also in South East Asia, among Chinese, Indonesians and Thais. He is revered as a Monkey God and the narrative is very much the same as with India.
CtoI: This is a cross-cultural production. What are the challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: Challenges are multifold like collaborating with many artists and different cultures coming in. I think the challenge is to choose what to present and what not to present to the audiencewhich is very fascinating. We have taken the narratives of India, whether it’s Tulsidas’ Ramayana or the Sanskrit version of Valmiki and so on.
CtoI: What makes it a compelling show?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: To see the cultures coming together. I think that’s a compelling watch. We have thought through many aspects about the cultures coming together, so in the music you have the Indonesian Gamelan and the Indian musicians coming together. In Indian music, you have South Indian Veena to the Sarangi of the North India, so it’s a pan Indian collaboration. We have narratives from all sorts of Ramayanas. So, we are bringing together everything in a single aspect of production. It’s something unique and it has taken four years to get where we are; we have been practising for almost one-and-a-half years. It’s a lot of work and I hope the audience will have a compelling reason to come and watch.
CtoI: You are an artist yourself. How do you define art?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: Art means different things to different people and no one is right or wrong. In one of our recent shows in London, an anonymous audience wrote to us and said they came for one-and-a-half hours and they forgot the worries and stress of everyday life and they said thank you, so that’s what art means; to transform you to other places and take you to other experiences. For me, art means giving aesthetical experiences to the audience. Today’s audience wants something innovative and new, which is a challenge for us.
CtoI: Kalaa Utsavam is about celebrating arts. Why do you think such celebrations are critical?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: Kalaa Utsavam is very critical to Singapore because it gives a platform to showcase the best. Not best from just Singapore, but best from all around the world and all genres of Indian art. It is also critical because it aspires artistes to be the best. It is a must platform for people who love Indian art. It serves a lot of purposes, not just entertainment.
CtoI: You have a background in IT and then you turned to art and promoting arts. Why did you do that?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: The background in IT and arts were two lives that I was leading. So, there were two secret lives going on for last 30 years. Four years ago, I decided to call it a day and on one life. But both of them have helped me where I am today. My corporate and global experience has helped me to look at things at global perspective and to push higher so that we keep jumping to push our standards. So, it’s been complimentary I would say and of course it also helps you understand the network and connections so that you can bring your art to new places.
CtoI: Do you have any message for people like you who are debating whether they should move towards the art or continue the job they are doing?
Aravinth Kumarasamy: It’s not easy to be in the arts because everybody knows there is no money in it unless you are doing commercial arts. It is a courageous step and I would advise people to follow their heart sincerely. Because if you are half-hearted you will quit, or you won’t fulfil the journey. So, it should really touch your heart what you really want to do. But there are a lot of people who I call hobby artists, but they are also needed in the industry. Sometimes hobby dancers are better than full-time dancers, so that is for everybody.
Watch the epic dance form Anjaneyam - Hanuman’s Ramayana on November 17 at 8 pm at Esplanade Theatre.