True purpose of arts education is to create curious minds: Meera Balasubramanian

Meera Balasubramanian started dancing at the age of four. Photo courtesy: Meera Balasubramanian FB Page
Meera Balasubramanian started dancing at the age of four. Photo courtesy: Meera Balasubramanian FB Page

When Meera Balasubramanian’s parents sent her for Bharathanatyam classes at the age of four, they probably never imagined she would dance her way to Singapore and even set up a dance company on this Southeast Asian island.

“In South Indian households, it is common practice to send the kids to be trained in classical music or dance,” Meera explained.

She took a break from dancing at grade 12 to focus on her academics, but she has never forgotten how the art has made her feel. “This fire inside me towards Bharathanatyam led me back to it eventually, at a later part in life, when I moved to Singapore.”

Meera currently heads Kalpavriksha Fine Arts, which she and two other young Singaporean dancers – Sruti Rao and Shruthi Ramesh – founded in 2016. The trio dedicated themselves to the propagation of the Indian arts in Singapore. “We hope that through the arts, we can engage with the larger community, and connect art to the contemporary issues of today's society,” she said of the dance company’s aims.

Kalpavriksha Fine Arts’ newest production, Yajnaseni – The Eternal Flame, will be staged this coming weekend, February 1-2, at Esplanade Theatre Studio.

Yajnaseni presents an empowering perspective on Draupadi, heroine of the Indian epic, Mahabharatha. Born out of fire, Draupadi’s birth, deeds and destiny had a cosmic purpose. Every morsel of her life had a pivotal cause and effect on humankind’s understanding of dharma. The production Yajnaseni gives voice to Draupadi’s private internal struggles; exploring the shades of grey between what is right and what feels wrong, between one's duty and one's feelings.

Meera Balasubramanian will be presenting her newest dance-theatre production Yajnaseni – The Eternal Flame at Esplanade on Feb 1 and 2, 2019. Photo: Connected to India
Meera Balasubramanian will be presenting her newest dance-theatre production Yajnaseni – The Eternal Flame at Esplanade on Feb 1 and 2, 2019. Photo: Connected to India

A divine Draupadi, who is human just like you and me

On her choice of Draupadi as the theme of the production, Meera said she had taken to Draupadi’s personality, admiring her dispositions to be both vulnerable yet strong.

“Draupadi possesses the true nature of fire. Fire is generally considered as a destructive energy, but within the Indian context it is considered as a purifier. Her birth, life, and everything in between were for a cause – for greater good.” While these qualities make Draupadi divine, she succumbs to human emotions and conflicts just like anyone of us. “What’s amazing is that at the end of the day, she overcomes all the trials and tribulations in her life with grace and power.”

Yajnaseni presents an empowering perspective on Draupadi, heroine of the Indian epic, Mahabharatha. Photo: Connected to India
Yajnaseni presents an empowering perspective on Draupadi, heroine of the Indian epic, Mahabharatha. Photo: Connected to India

Speaking about the challenges faced when putting together the production, Meera explained that a lot of hard work went into the conceptualisation alone.

“Draupadi’s life is a challenging subject to explore. We consulted eminent research scholars in order to put together a holistic concept of her. We also had to identify the right team of artists who would be able to relate to that concept, and convert it into a piece of art,” she said. “I am very lucky to be able to collaborate with Sri Hari Padman (choreographer) and Sri O. S. Arun (music composer) who added their genius to the dance production.”

It wasn’t easy to bring all the elements together. “As you can imagine, one would always feel short of time and the ability to multi-task becomes extremely important,” Meera said.

The power of the arts to shape lives

The arts have always been an essential part of human condition, shaping our experience of the world around us.

Meera Balasubramanian believes that arts education has the power to change and empower lives. Photo: Connected to India
Meera Balasubramanian believes that arts education has the power to change and empower lives. Photo: Connected to India

Meera wants to highlight through the dance production, aspects of Draupadi that inspire and empower women. “There are a myriad of issues that women today continue to face. There are certain qualities of Draupadi that I hope shines through in this dance-theatre, and bring strength to women. For example, the courage to not suffer in silence, the resilience to bounce back from any situation, as well as not succumbing to circumstances and fate.”

The power of any form of art, after all, lies in its ability to move us. As Meera shared, “The true purpose of arts education is not necessarily to create more professional artists; but to create more complete human beings who are critical thinkers, curious minds, and can lead productive lives."

Author
Kareyst Lin
Kareyst Lin – Senior Writer

Kareyst has experience in writing about B2B technology for Computerworld Singapore, MIS Asia and CIO Asia; and on government technology for GCIO Asia. Her pet areas are artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and smart cities - these are fueled by her obsession with sci-fi movies and philosophy of mind. An active Yoga practitioner and cat lover, with a background in Indian philosophy, subaltern and diaspora studies.

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