Apsara is a new enterprise in its second year of operation in the business of the arts, dance and publishing as well as other cultural endeavours. Dance and publication seem to have emerged so far as their most prominent engagements and they have joined the growing list of Guyanese dance companies, dance schools and dance groups that are now active in the country.
Because of these groups and their activities over the last decade, dance has maintained a place as the most prolific performing art form on the public stage. More and more dancers who have been formally trained in the art are branching out to start independent groups which have added to the landscape of the theatre in Guyana. As they grow in size and confidence they begin to widen the scope of their public performances, and the most important impact of this has been the marked increase in annual dance productions that have now registered their presence, although not all of the groups have made it to this level. Ready or not, however, some of those in the latter category still follow that practice.
Aspara has been the newest company to have emerged out of this trend. They presented their second full dance production in May, 2009 titled Apsara directed and produced by Chandini Ramnarain, the leader of the new enterprise. Ramnarain directs a small group of dancers who started out in the Nritya Sang of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha before branching off to be one of the independent companies, and began performing as a unit in 2008. Since then their tour of performances has included appearances in Carifesta X which they list as their primary achievement so far with stage presentations in Berbice and Georgetown. They also appeared at the launching of Rice Fest in Guyana, in an Evening of Dance at the Pegasus, among several other engagements in an increasingly busy schedule in a field that has inspired quite a demand of its own. The group itself also seems to be very much in demand, given their schedule and the large ‘sold-out’ audiences that they attract. The popularity of the show has been sufficiently encouraging to prompt a repeat performance on July 22.
Apsara, (sometimes refered to as Apsara 2 in Programme Notes) presented several dances with a variety of types and impact and mixed in quality. The items were not attributed, but the show’s main choreographers were – Padmini Rambalak, Kiran Mattai, Lucria Rambalak and Marcia Akeung. Their work as presented included Bollywood and filmi – very much influential in the show as a whole – Indian; modern; Latin, in which Marcia Akeung is a specialist; popular; a number of pieces described as Arabian; and western fusion. These were danced by members of the group but there were also many danced by children which has been a feature of the two productions so far.
It was easy to identify the more accomplished dancers who carried or led most of the items presented. These included Akeung, Chandini Ramnarain, Kiran Mattai, Lucria Rambalak and Padmini Rambalak, very much the same team responsible for the choreography and who seem to make up the core of the company. They gave strength to a number of items cast by them or danced along with others. For example, they were responsible for the single most impressive choreography in the programme, Faceless Avatar of Desire.
This performance of one of the modern dance items made the most enduring impression as a design and as a performance. Two continuous motifs were the facelessness and the desire which sustained the dance throughout. The theme of facelessness was the more outstanding. Through a number of techniques the girls remained ‘faceless’ except at the very end where the dancers closed in a formation with their backs to the audience and only one in the final move, turned to look full-faced at the audience. It then becomes evident that at no time during the dance were the faces of the girls revealed until that last moment. It began with them backing the audience but even when they were facing front, in a technique borrowed from Indian classical dance, there were intricate hand movements and these were subtly designed to mask or otherwise obscure their faces, but the significance of this only came home at the end.
Because of the subtlety of the choreography, demands were made on technique and thoroughness of execution to the minutest detail. Sugges-tion, innuendo and implicit meaning were also important because of the element of ‘desire’ that was suggested in the title and that was supposed to be brought out in the dance. It dawned on the audience that there was that additional inter-relationship between the two motifs, since the facelessness enhanced the curiosity and hence the desire. The dancers had to understand these texts in the performance for them to work, and they managed to communicate the right mood and body language for the choreography to work the way it did in the Faceless Avatar of Desire.
These lead dancers also contributed to the upliftment of other choreographies in which they appeared with other performers, who were among the cast of many items. These included Indira Mattai, Karishma Narwani, Samantha Mendonca, Dominique Niamatali and Rhea Ramkhellawan. In several other presentations the accomplishment of technique was often not in evidence. Their performances covered the wide range that the show exhibited, with an obvious influence of forms like the Bollywood filmi and a number of other popular elements.
There was also a strong base of other older forms of Indian dance in the offerings, which were reflected not only in choreography and style of choreography but in other visual factors characteristic of Indian theatre. The most prominent of these was spectacle. Attention was paid to the usual colourful costuming by Ramnarain and Karishman Narwani, except for the different kinds of accuracy that were necessary but not always achieved, such as in the number of areas described as “Arabian.” The set by Cecil Rambalak followed in the same spectacular tradition.
The other prominent Apsara enterprise also keeps close to the arts because of the features that it carries. The glossy magazine Apsara with a sub-title which describes it as “Exploring New Boundaries,” started just after Carifesta in September 2008 and has already published three issues. Having done so, it has already gone further than so many similar periodical publications that do not survive beyond the first or second issue. As so many have discovered, magazine production is demanding and hazardous.
Apsara, edited by Ramnarain, is eclectic with features on a cross-section of subjects, but with a consistent interest in the arts. There are interviews and articles on performers and artists, and there is a sense that Carifesta was at least an initial driving force that inspired the magazine. It has good production quality with the high gloss finish and strength in colorful photography which is not untypical of its kind. Had it devoted more pages to the arts, it could have been neatly described as a documentary companion to the performing arts which is the focus of the dance group. Yet it has a cultural bias and will appeal to those with a kindred spirit.