Life goes on if you want it to.
When there’s a will, there’s a way, a saying that’s exemplified in Maya Dance Theatre’s 2021 edition of their Pancha series. Titled Less and Lesser, the production tackles the age-old issue of well, growing old, and shows that age is no barrier to self-expression with the power of the performing arts. Not only that, but due to the ongoing pandemic, has faced a tumultuous rehearsal process primarily held online, yet pushing through and resulting in a successful production.
Split across two iterations performed over two weeks, the first segment, Season For Life, comprises two ‘chapters. Performed at Aliwal Arts Centre, we begin with Chapter 01 – Dying Flower. Taking in all the visuals around us, the lights almost expanding the space, Eva Tey, and it feels like an intimate experience. Raghavendran Rajasekaran arrives playing the flute, and Eva now follows the sound, mesmerised. She seems light-footed, uplifted from her initial forlorn self, and finds her way back to her ‘younger self’. We hear an older woman’s voice telling us about her divorce, and all the pain she’s experienced over the years.
As Senior Performer Shaul Hamid Shabirah now comes on stage, she begins to tell us her story, beginning with a family portrait, the most precious item to her. As she recounts her childhood, she recalls catching guppies in drains and climbing trees, a tomboy in her youth, so different from her sisters, and channels a youthful energy in her being. As she holds up a photograph of her family, it felt like a personal, emotional moment as she stands in front of us. As Raghavendran begins playing again, it seems like a song to soothe her, the light shining down on the family photograph. Eva arrives onstage again, dancing as if she wants to break free, and watching her, Shaul realises that Eva represents a shadow of her younger self. They glance at each other for just for a moment, their actions now synchronised as they hold hands, and recognise a certain familiarity in each other, seeking solace and hope as they leave with a quiet smile.
In the next segment, Chapter 02- D72, the performers explore themes of regret and roads less travelled. Senior Performer Dexter Tai begins by explaining how his life is not a normal one, before Kailin Yong arrives playing the violin. His playing is interrupted by a commotion behind us, as dancer Subastian Tan frantically attempts to express himself. Things become more abstract as we see falling chairs, the piece spiralling into chaos as Dexter ‘speaks’ of life, so focused on telling his story, he lets nothing distract him.
Looking at Dexter, we realise how steadfast he is, never taking anything for granted, always moving. For him, every moment in life is a lesson. As we see both of them manoeuvre life’s dangerous paths, they hold on to each other, with strong guiding hands, helping each other through life’s many ups and downs. We realise that the young still have much to learn from the generation that came before them, and vice versa, always learning no matter how much the road ahead meanders. We must never be contented, and keep yearning for more, achieving all this as we waltz our way through life. Best encapsulated through Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’.
Moving on to the second week, Pancha: Less & Lesser concluded with Chapter 03- Death of An Artist, an inter-disciplinary dance meets theatre work inspired by the poetry of Tamil Poet, N Palanivelu. Dancer Shahrin Johry begins wrapped in cloth, a pair of eyes on the floor, as if we’re always being watched and judged. We hear the ticking of the clock, and we think of how the dancer is shrouded in mystery. With this veil obscuring our view, we wonder about his face, his personality and his fear of coming out, attempting but never daring to emerge from his cocoon.
Theatremaker Sharda Harrison arrives from the back, and walks around him. As she comes closer, it almost seems like their auras have met, and there is an understanding. She pulls the cloth away from his body, and for a moment, time stands still. Yet the ticking continues, time flowing even when we want it to stop. Playwright Hemang Yadev now arrives, reciting Palanivelu’s poetry, his face expressions and body language telling us all we need to know. As much as we do not understand the words, we are reminded that sometimes, all we have to do is pay attention to what is going on right in front of us, rather than getting frustrated at what we do not understand.
As Hemang begins to speak, Shahrin begins shaking, as if his fear is returning to stop him in his tracks again. All we see is his silhouette, still lost, trying his best to break free. Sharda turns to look wearily at him, and we think of her as his conscience. Coming face to face with him, we see how his loneliness has led him to madness. It seems we are always chasing after time, or running away from its effects. How much time do we have left?
We begin to consider the significance of the mirrors around us, a reminder of our mortality, and how we must be constantly aware of our appearances. We are forced to confront this each day of our life, carrying on as if to ignore the fact that time is running out, with sound designer Lalit Kumar’s soundscapes bringing this to the fore. No longer judging, Sharda comes to the fore and to Shahrin’s aid, performing a duet as they dance together, supporting each other. It almost seems to elevate the piece with mysticism, as their bodies meet and their souls comfort each other. He breaks into a smile, as if he’s seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and seems to have finally broken free of the fear weighing him down.
Perhaps what Pancha: Less and Lesser leaves us with then, is a portrayal of how life is often a seemingly endless series of struggles that will put us through our toughest times. But it is with the support of others, with belief and hope that we find a way to carry on, and find not less, but so much more to life than just this.
Pancha – Less and Lesser ran from 14th to 16th October and 21st to 23rd October 2021 at Aliwal Arts Centre. More information available here