A dazzling debut dance performance


I smiled as I read the invitation to the debut dance performance by Lim Shao Xi, a disciple of Dr Ajith Bhaskar, and recalled the time when I met them, the way Shao Xi respectfully addressed Ajith as Master, just as a disciple would address his Sifu.


Lim Shao Xi performing a dance in his
Rangapravesham, debut dance performance

In one of our chats, Ajith had given me the event date in advance and it was marked on my calendar to attend Shao Xi’s Rangapravesham, the debut performance of a student of Indian classical dance after years of training with his Master.


Ajith was particularly keen that I should witness this debut dance show because it will be history-in-the-making as his disciple, Shao Xi is the first Chinese young man in Johor to excel in performing the art of Bharatanatyam.


A disciple or apprentice, is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is.


Shao Xi also known as Sreehari, paying 
homage to his Master, Dr Ajith Bhaskar

I could not help it but my thoughts flashed to scenes from the 1970s TV series, Kung Fu, where Master Po imparted worldly wisdoms to Grasshopper, the nickname for his disciple, Kwai Chang Caine.


However the reality is, Shao Xi is a Chinese young man in Johor who chose to learn the art Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of Ajith Bhaskar of Suvarna Fine Arts, an Indian classical dance virtuoso in the art of Bharatanatyam.


Over the years, I had the pleasure to witness the Arangetram or debut dance shows of Ajith’s students as well as many high-quality productions staged by Suvarna Fine Arts where Ajith is the principal and artistic director.


Shao Xi's parents, Mr & Mrs Lim 
Kok Leng, presented a flower 
garland to Master Ajith 

I am familiar with Ajith’s illustrious career in the performing arts and had the privilege to document his story in My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, my book which turned out to be an MPH Non-Fiction Bestseller in 2017.


Last year, when Ajith introduced me to Shao Xi, I learnt that when Shao Xi was a student with Foon Yew High School, Chow Pei Foon of Chow Drama, a performing art school in Johor Baru, was the instructor in their Drama Society.


Shao Xi always interested in dance but was too preoccupied with studies and co-curricular activities like vocal and drama classes as well as playing the piano.


After high school, Shao Xi expressed his desire to dance Bharatanatyam.


Mr & Mrs Lim Kok Leng also presented garlands
to members of the Bharatanatyam orchestra

His choice of dance was Bharatanatyam because it was an art form which is linked to his Asian cultural background. It was Chow who introduced him to Ajith and he started training with Suvarna Fine Arts since 2016.


After seven months of dance training, Shao Xi left for Taiwan to further his education at the National Sun Yat Sen University in Taiwan where he studied Western classical music and trained as a vocalist for a Degree in Western Fine Arts, majoring in Western vocals. I remember asking him about this and Shao Xi told me that he was trained as a baritone.


Shao Xi was in his element on stage

When he was back in Johor Baru during his term holidays, Shao Xi would undergo intense training with Ajith.


His Master gave him a stage name, Sreehari, which sounded like his Chinese name and matches with the first and last syllables of his Chinese name.


However, during the global pandemic and lockdown periods, Shao Xi was in Taiwan.


He shared with me about how he felt acute homesickness and wanted to continue with his dance practice in his free time.


In Taiwan, he worked part-time with a Chinese restaurant and after business hours, he asked for permission to use the space for his dance practice.


Shao Xi performed flawlessly to the rhythm
of the live music by the Bharatanatyam orchestra

So after he had shifted the tables and chairs to create a space to dance, he made use of modern technology to continue with his dance classes, online with Ajith.


After completing his Degree, Shao Xi returned to Johor Baru in 2022 and started training for his debut dance performance, the Rangapravesham, which marks an important milestone in the tradition of Indian classical dance.


On my arrival at the event, I was welcomed into the auditorium along with my media friend from The Iskandarian, the official newspapers of Iskandar Malaysia.


Shao Xi aka Sreehari captivated the
audience with his dance expressions

As Norfy was unfamiliar with such an event, I had the pleasure to brief her with informative tips that I had garnered from my experience with Suvarna Fine Arts.


I told Norfy that in my years of attending Suvarna Fine Arts productions, I was probably the only non-Indian person in the audience but a glance around the auditorium showed us that it was different at this event.


The front row was occupied by Shao Xi’s parents, Mr & Mrs Lim Kok Leng, and family members that included his grandmother, while many Chinese and Indian as well as Norfy and other Malay people were also in this audience.


On the souvenir programme, a printed quote aptly described what we were about to witness. It read as, “The blossoming of the lotus, akin to the budding young dancer, is a moment of celebration.”


Another engaging performance
by Shao Xi aka Sreehari

It was wonderful that Shao Xi has his family’s support to pursue Indian classical dance in the art of Bharatanatyam under Ajith’s tutelage and this was reciprocated in the event where the souvenir programme and event narration were presented in English and Chinese languages.


When the lights dimmed, I joined the audience to be enthralled by Shao Xi’s flawless performance of a repertoire of eight dances to live music by a Bharatanatyam orchestra.


The vocals were provided by Suganya Jegathesan Sharma and Ajith, as the nattuvanaar who played the nattuvangam, a pair of metal alloy cymbals, a rhythm instrument to maintain tempo, provide harmony and highlight the nuances.


This Bharatanatyam orchestra was c0mpleted by J J Prathap Sharma on the mridagam, G Manikantan playing the violin and Dr Ghanavenothan Retnam on the flute.


The stage belonged to Sreehari at his

On stage, Shao Xi transformed into a prolific storyteller who shared with us excerpts from Indian classics through the profound language of dance that transcended words in a beautiful and timeless expression that bridged us as individuals, cultures and generations.


Five hours with a brief intermission passed all too quickly as the audience sat, mesmerized by Shao Xi aka Sreehari, the budding artiste who scorched the stage with his engaging and entertaining performance.


The presentation began and ended the same way, with Shao Xi paying homage to his Master and the musicians for supporting him in his debut dance performance.


Sreehari [Third from Right] with his parents and
Shri Shankar Kandasamy [Far Left], Master Ajith
and Shrimathi Shanta Ratii [Centre]

Finally Chief Guest, Shri Shankar Kandasamy, Artistic Director of the Temple of Fine Arts and Guest of Honour, Shrimathi Shanta Ratii, Artistic Director of Shanta Ratii Initiatives Singapore, shared a few words to commend and encourage Shao Xi at the start of his journey in Bharatanatyam dance.


The event aptly closed with Shao Xi who expressed his appreciation, bi-lingual in Mandarin and English. 

As I slowly made my way out of the auditorium, dazzled by such a memorable debut dance show, I was pleased and proud to have witnessed a very special piece of Johor history.


Suvarna Fine Arts is located at Nong Chik Riverside, No. 17, Level 2, Jalan Kolam Ayer 2, Kampung Mohd Amin, 80200 Johor Baru, Johor.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5/22/2024

    Wow! So happy to see a live blog 😄 Ty for still blogging.