Let me preface this mini-review by saying that my enjoyment of this show was marred by hundreds of secondary school students who had come (with their teachers?) to watch this play on Sunday. Now, I can deal with the occasional audience titter or guffaw, and think there is value in seeing a performance through the eyes of a young person. But these young men treated the performance as their own personal pep rally. The hooted and hollered; they whooped and wailed. Most disturbingly, and perhaps most tellingly, they voiced their “amusement” during the most womanist, most feminist, most moving scenes, including (spoiler alert and trigger warning) a scene in which the protagonist is raped. Twitter seems to suggest that these children attend one of Singapore’s most elite boys’ school; other theatre-goers had much harsher things to say elsewhere on social media. To afford theatre is a privilege; I surely couldn’t when I was their age! It is sad that they could not—would not—appreciate the hard work that the artists put into this unusual, haunting, and nuanced production.
But, enough ink spilled on them…
The Necessary Stage’s Gitanjali [I Feel the Earth Move] is actually the first performance that I’ve seen by this esteemed theatre company. Gitanjali is the story of Savitri, a teacher of traditional dance in India, whose protege, Priya, departs for Vancouver. Savitri’s son, Shankara, reluctantly assumes his mother’s school’s leadership, before he, too, departs for Singapore where his wife, Nandini, is from.
Director Alvin Tan and writer Haresh Sharma’s Gitanjali is inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s most famous collection of poems; the Nobel Laureate’s verses are recited by the actors, narrated in voiceovers, and displayed on screens. The multimedia, interdisciplinary production also features contemporary and classical dance, live music, and an assemblage of text and image on screens.
This collaborative frenzy works in scenes in which: dancers Laotian contemporary dancer/chereographer Ole Khamchanla and Singapore-based Odissi-trained dancer Raka Maitra grace the stage; Ebi Shankara (“Shankara”) and Padma Sangram (“Savitri”) perform Sharma’s sharp, sparring dialogue; live Hindustani music, by vocalist Dr. Namita Mehta, and looped music and snatches of spoken word, mixed by sound artist Bani Haykal, create a dreamlike auditory atmosphere.
But ultimately, Tagore’s words, and their connection to each of the characters, get lost in this ambitious production. The incorporation of “Rabindra Sangeet;” of references to various events in Indian history, including the 1992 Bombay riots; of photographs of Tagore; of psychedelic video projections by Brian Gothong Tan are interesting in and of themselves—and, no doubt, beautifully rendered—but only serve to blur Tan’s and Sharma’s expansive vision.