Splendor of Dance

A dramatic scene that depicts the slaying of the demon
Mahishasura by the goddess Durga
Fans of Indian classical dance in Johor Baru who eagerly anticipate performances by Survana Fine Arts dance academy were enthralled by the recent staging of Abhikya – the Splendor of Dance, a classic Bharata Natyam performance by Ajith Bhaskaran Dass and 11 Survana dancers.  They recognised the hallmarks of Ajith’s touches as the performance reflected his extraordinary talent, deep spirituality, breathtaking creativity and absolute sensitivity.  In the past two decades, Ajith, the academy’s Artistic Director, has produced distinct and original dance works that combine authentic classicism with universal appeal.

Survana Fine Arts dance academy
founder and artistic director,
Ajith Bhaskaran Dass
More than 20 years ago, Johor-born Ajith left a career in law to focus on his passion for Indian classical dance and was voted Best Male Dancer in the December season of the International Music and Dance Festival in Chennai, India by the Shankarabharanam Trust in 1996.  This versatile performer and choreographer won numerous accolades for his work and was the first male Indian classical dancer to be featured in the 2000 International Arts Festival in Frankfurt, Germany.  He was also the first Malaysian to perform at the famed Lincoln Center and at the Joyce Theatre, Broadway, New York in 2003.

Ajith’s mastery of techniques in the rigorous disciplines of Bharatha Natyam and Odissi led him to collaborate with professional productions locally and abroad in an impressive repertoire of performances.  Besides the students’ annual recital in JB, this year Survana performed several shows including 2 major productions staged in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.  This major collaboration with artistes from Delhi for the world premier of Brahmakalpa – the Eternal Universe, was a sold-out show in KL, followed by another performance in Singapore’s Esplanade Theatre Studio last June and in October it will be showcased at two venues in India.
Ajith [Left] with male dancers performing an invocation
to Lord Shanmukha
“For a very long time, I have not staged a production in JB in which I perform and as we are working on a repertoire for a major dance festival in KL later this year, I thought it would be wonderful to share it with the JB audience,” said Ajith about Abhikya – the Splendor of Dance, a non-stop performance of 7 dance pieces with costume changes for every dance.  

This consummate artiste made it a point to connect with the audience not only through dance artistry but also by providing a comprehensive narration in English to help the audience better appreciate the art form.  He was particularly pleased that Survana has established a strong reputation with a following in Singapore and KL and many fans came all the way to JB just for this performance.

Survana Fine Arts dancers presenting a pure dance piece
in Natya Tarangini
Ajith is humbled as he looked back to the early years of Survana when he started the dance academy in 1994 with just 4 students – Vijay Chandran, Sujatha Vijay, Ananthemalar  Durairaj and Vijayan Veeryen.  

These students went through 10 years of serious training under his tutelage before graduating as seniors.  Some of the senior dancers have been with Survana for almost 18 years while the first 4 senior graduates are now part of the teaching faculty who run branches of the academy in several locations in Johor.

Female dancers illustrating the resplendent
goddess Meenakshi
At Suvarna, only students who seriously want to continue dancing will be given their dance debut or arangetram – a solo performance where the guru presents his pupil to the public.  

Ajith believes in giving his students a holistic education in all aspects of dance, from dancing and teaching to choreography as well as stage production.  So in every production, some of the senior students are not only dancers but also given the opportunity to be involved in wardrobe management, set and lighting design and execution.
Suvarna students support the show in various roles like
stage production, wardrobe management, set and
lighting design and execution
“Indian classical dance or any serious art form requires a lot of passion and dedication.  This passion must be backed by consistent training and hard work. Young dancers must commit themselves to proper training from good teachers and must be willing to subject themselves to many years of learning and practice,” said Ajith, who learnt to dance under his illustrious gurus, Shanta Bhaskar, Adya K. Lakshman, Ramli Ibrahim and the Dhananjayans. 

“Aspiring dancers should cultivate an interest in reading about dance and watching as many performances as they can.  Dance training is only one part of a dancer’s evolution because a great deal can be learnt by osmosis and observation.  Always compare yourself and your dance by international standards,” he added.

Abhikya - the Splendor of Dance, a classic Bharata natyam performance was showcased by
Ajith Bhaskaran Dass and 11 Survana dancers
Backstage, the dancers help each other put on the final
touches to the costumes before the curtain goes up!
Ajith’s teaching style in Survana includes in-depth understanding of the dance rather than learning the steps alone.  Even though his students are eager to dance, they must listen to lectures to learn about the concept of the dance and understand the lyrics to the music before they can perform more competently.  

This year, Survana’s artistic calendar in Johor will close with the annual students’ recital on November 22, in presenting Krishnamayam, a full length dance drama that will feature over 60 dancers to the accompaniment of a live traditional orchestra.

Survana Fine Arts dance academy offers courses in Bharatha Natyam, Odissi, contemporary and folk dances.  For more info, email: ajithdance@gmail.com

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 23 Sept 2014

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