In its fourth year, the Release series initiated by Maya Dance Theatre has become an opportunity for the young company to discover new talent. While most local contemporary dance companies have similar platforms, the others tend to operate under a different model. They focus on honing the skills of a dedicated and select group of young dance artists under each company’s unique aesthetic. Maya on the other hand has opted for variety, selecting their emerging choreographers from an international open call. This has resulted in a rather interesting line up for this year’s Release 4.0 featuring dance artists from Israel, India and South Korea. Besides getting dance artists from these exotic locations to present their works, this year’s release also gives focus to regional and local choreographers who have been making headway in their careers. German-based Malaysian choreographer, Raymond Liew, is one such example. Having studied at the renowned Folkwang University, he has done projects with a slew of seminal German choreographers and groups including Pina Bausch Tanztheater.
Perhaps this is a suitable direction for Maya. Coming from an Indian classical dance background, Artistic Director, Kavitha Krishnan, has been spending much of her artistic career trying to locate and fit Bharatanatyam’s classical aesthetics and philosophy within Singapore’s contemporary landscape. Admittedly, this journey has had its challenges. But Krishnan is keeping an open mind by leaving her doors open to different artists and dance styles and allowing for the exchange of ideas. Through the years, we have seen how Krishnan has attempted to push the boundaries of Bharatanatyam by exploring it alongside dance styles as diverse as post-modern American dance and traditional Indonesian dance forms. At this juncture, it seems she is less interested in finding a conclusive result as she is about making sure that every exploration yields fresh perspectives about Bharatanatyam. Release is exactly the kind of platform for Maya because it exposes them to a variety of different dance styles, allowing them to broaden their horizons in their search of finding the right balance between Bharatanatyam and the contemporary.
Maya’s efforts are paying off. Through the Release series, they have created a small network of artists that they work closely with. One such dance artist is Phittaya Phaefuang from Thailand, who is more commonly known as Sun. Sun first performed a solo in Release 3.0. Since then, he has joined Maya to be a project artist between 2014 to 2016. With the company, he has had the opportunity to work with international choreographers and tour regional dance festivals in South East Asia.
Release 4.0 also scores on the local front. Maya’s principal dancer, Sharin Johry, has been given numerous choreographic opportunities throughout this series. As a result, he has been able to develop a distinct style that draws heavily from pop and clubbing culture. Johry explains how these chances have given him a consistent avenue to try out different concepts. “I was able to refine my craft through these repeated attempts. I am now much clearer of my artistic direction,” he says. Another local dance artist who will be featured is Bernice Lee. Formerly from Frontier Danceland, she now works closely with Maya. Known to be fiercely independent and very perceptive, the freedom and variety offered to her by Maya suits her well both as performer and choreographer. One might remember her previous collaboration with Johry in Release 3.0 in which the both of them created a highly comedic work fuelled by their fertile imagination.
Incorporating the Release series into their annual performance schedule is definitely to Maya’s benefit. The series is lighthearted, casual and features dance in a bite-sized format. It is perfect for the person who wants to see a variety of choreographic styles but might want to avoid delving into the more austere aspects of contemporary dance. Part of the thrill of going to a Release performance is the fact that you never quite know what will be served to you.