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Preview: Pancha – Less and Lesser by Maya Dance Theatre

“Old age is not a disease- it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses” – Maggie Kuh

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, local dance company Maya Dance Theatre (MDT) has forged on in their mission to bring attention and create awareness around imminent social issues in our community. With the fourth edition of their ongoing Pancha series, the company delves into the issue of age and the elderly, co-creating a new dance work in the form of Less and Lesser.

Playing at Aliwal Arts Centre across two parts over two weekends this October, Less and Lesser draws inspiration from these seniors’ real experiences and memories, and highlights the experience of seniors with strong aspirations, wisdom and a young heart. The aim of the production? To prove that age is not a death knell, and not a case where one is doomed to become frail, lonely and forgotten, and to celebrate their resilience to surpass all odds.

Less and Lesser will feature the debut performance of two seniors who have collaborated with MDT for a duration of six months, sharing their stories, aspirations, challenges and memories. Working for the production amidst the uncertainties of live performance has been an enormous feat for the two seniors, especially rehearsing with masks ‘on’; while also adapting to online rehearsals during the heightened alert period, and coming to grips with digital tools like Zoom. Patience, time and friendship from the creative team partially converted the seniors and gave them confidence to continue working together with MDT, to find meaning in the digital sphere.

Less and Lesser has given me a golden opportunity to do one of the things I enjoy but couldn’t do when I was younger – to dance,” says Shaul Hamid Shabirah, 74, one of the seniors performing in Less and Lesser. “I believe in the principles of Relationship Banking and how important is to make connections with people surrounding us” adds Dexter Tai, 80, another senior involved in Less and Lesser.

“The space between us and the seniors opened up as we shared our stories, challenges and aspirations. The coming together to support one another also became paramount especially during this pandemic period. Some times, we all found it extremely challenged to rehearse with masks on and especially the 2 seniors in the work,” shares Kavitha Krishnan, artistic director of MDT.

Their resilience and tenacity to pursue gave us confidence to dream; and the generosity of the collaborators, their urge to connect again to make art, and most importantly to connect with another. This feeling that we are all in this together gives us hope, and we pursue by carving yet a new path forward.

– Kavitha Krishnan, artistic director of MDT

Less and Lesser adopts a hybrid format, utilising both the digital and live realm through interactive videos, live and live-stream production, photo exhibition and digital music performance. Taking the form of two works across the two weeks- with Season For Life from 14th to 16th October, and Reason of Death from 21st to 23rd October; the production as a whole explores ideas of companionship and listening, the legacies we leave behind, the fear of death, and the power of art.

Reason for Death, in particular, draws inspiration from the poems of late renowned Singapore Tamil-language poet, Mr.Palanivelu, who was forced to stop writing when he started to lose his hearing, subsequently removing himself from the family and community as his hearing deteriorated. The work then reimagines his presence through his poems to find solace for a younger artist recovering from a medical condition known as Bel Palsy and is co-directed by Sharda Harrison with Kavitha Krishnan. The production also features the narratives of two other seniors who have since passed on, but their memories remain narrated and performed by their grandsons.

The production will also feature a diverse cast featuring dancers from Maya Dance Theatre, with Shahrin Johry, Eva Tey, and Subastian Tan. They will be joined by theatre practitioners such as Sharda Harrison, co-script writer/performer Hemang Yadav; and composers/collaborators Lalit Kumar, Raghavendra Rajasekaran, Yong Kailin. In addition to the on-site production, the project also features online outreach projects associated with the theme: seniors and ageing.

In MDT’s quest to bring seniors to the foreground, the company has also partnered with Secondmeal, a non-profit organization that acts as a vehicle to facilitate meals for needy seniors, persons with disabilities and special needs. Partial proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Secondmeal to purchase meals for disadvantaged seniors.

Pancha – Less and Lesser runs from 14th to 16th October and 21st to 23rd October 2021 at Aliwal Arts Centre. Tickets available from Peatix

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