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Preview: Bhaskar’s Arts Academy Commemorates its 70th Anniversary with Year-Long Celebratory Programme

This February, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy (BAA) commemorates its 70th Anniversary with year-long festivities that will showcase its legacy. Running from February to November, the programme features a diverse lineup of close to 20 captivating performances and exhibitions that will honour the Academy’s achievements, as well as give back to the industry through mentorships and collaborations.

“This celebration is about the Art; one that migrated here 70 years ago, found its roots and became a part of our heritage. It’s a milestone in our history and a journey that deserves to be celebrated.”, said Mrs Santha Bhaskar, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy.

The festivities include core productions Sangeetha Sapthathi, Butterfly Lovers and Marabu 3. Other activities of the celebratory programme fall under two umbrella categories: Footprints and Making it count, with aims of documenting BAA’s achievements in the past 70 years and providing opportunities and support to budding artists and art organisations respectively.

Sangeetha Sapthathi. Image Courtesy of BAA.

Led by Music Director Dr Ghanavenothan Retnam, Sangeetha Sapthathi is a specially curated set of music pieces that encompasses the Academy’s contribution to the vibrant arts scene in Singapore since its establishment. Each selection is significant in its own way in presenting an important moment in the institution’s journey thus far. Favourites of the founders, the Bhaskars, will also be featured. Sangeetha Sapthathi will be presented by the well-established Bhaskar’s Arts Orchestra.

Butterfly Lovers. Image Courtesy of BAA.

Butterfly Lovers is a representative piece choreographed by Mrs Santha Bhaskar. Inspired by the Chinese film version of the tale, Mrs Bhasker brings the Bharatanatyam lens to a Chinese folktale through this production. This was also her first full length production here in Singapore. Premiered in Singapore in 1958, the work was reimagined in 2021 by Mrs Bhaskar’s daughter, Meenakshy Bhaskar. This iteration is now commissioned to be restaged in June 2022 for Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre’s annual cultural fiesta, Cultural Extravaganza.

Following the success of the first two chapters Marabu – The First Ripple and Marabu – The Forgotten Sentinels that were showcased in 2019 and 2021 respectively, Marabu 3 is the final act of the trilogy and part of Esplanade’s annual Kalaa Utsavam. The Marabu trilogy brings to life pertinent moments of the Singapore Indian community and their shared history with other communities, highlighting the migration and cultural exchange between them. Through the eyes of a young dancer, this work will give audiences a glimpse into the Singapore Indian community post-1965.

Footprints will document and showcase BAA’s accomplishments in the past seven decades through a series of items which encapsulate the narratives of the Academy’s legacy, including an exhibition, a commemorative book and a performance. BAA’s premises at Little India will also house a three-month multi-media exhibition that will capture the essence of the seven decades of BAA and Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society (NAS) and their contributions to the arts scene in Singapore. Visitors can also explore photos, videos, past programme booklets and various other paraphernalia on display.

Further on in the year, BAA also plans to release a Commemorative Book, collating articles, photos and other materials, representative of the 70 years of BAA’s legacy. Also planned is a Bharatanatyam performance that will tell the story of Mrs Santha Bhaskar and her journey in Singapore, along with their Making it count initiative, which aims to give back to the industry and community by providing a platform and offering opportunities for budding artists to showcase their performing arts.

Santha Bhaskar once said that to inspire the younger generations, it has to start at home, much like tasting food. Once they develop a taste for their heritage and culture, it will be easy to inspire the younger generation. In line with this, this set of performances offers NAS students the opportunity to start early and to cultivate a taste for performing, with the ultimate objective of grooming future generations of artists.

As such, through the 70th Anniversary celebrations, BAA also hopes to share its accumulated knowledge and provide support to independent artists or younger arts organisations as a pioneer in Indian dance. BAA will be actively seeking out younger artists or organisations to work with and mentor, from conceptualisation to stage. These artists will have access to BAA’s expertise and knowledge as well as BAA’s artists who can play a supporting role.

BAA believes that the continuity of the art form lies in the hands of the next generation. Working together with their overseas branches in California, Arizona, and Freiburg, BAA aims to guide them through the transition of eventually becoming leaders in their own right, who can then lead future generations of artists.

Since its establishment in 1952, BAA has celebrated seven decades of its legacy, made possible by the Academy’s adaptability and openness to change. Amidst a rapidly evolving arts landscape, the Academy looks to continue adapting as it shifts its focus to ‘transitions’ for the upcoming years. As it celebrates the achievements from the past seven decades, BAA hopes to move towards sustainable development, with the long-term goal of future-proofing the organisation and its legacy. BAA thus has plans to groom the younger generation of artists, such as through Choreography Labs, where the younger generation of choreographers will be mentored by senior choreographers. With its experience in producing cross-cultural works, BAA also hopes to build cross-community bridges and enhance the uniquely Singaporean performing arts identity. In keeping up with evolving audience expectations, BAA will also explore working with partners from the technology sector for the presentation of their works.

“My hope is for BAA to continue embracing this little red dot’s diversity and multiculturalism without losing the values that have been passed down from generation to generation,” added Mrs Bhaskar. “I would like to see a younger generation of artists who have the courage to explore and experiment, who embrace technology so that they can connect globally and excite future generations. They should have a shared vision to foster a healthy environment where the artists in the region can thrive and the arts can be accessible to all.”

The 70th Anniversary celebrations will kick off on 25th February with Sangeetha Sapthathi at the Stamford Art Centre Black Box. Tickets are available here For more information on the upcoming programmes, visit BAA’s Facebook page.

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