An Enchanting Night of Dance & Music

Getting an invite to shoot a dance performance rehearsal is like getting a backstage pass to a concert. Not only is it a privilege to see how the show is put together, in some respects the performances are often just as intense and thought provoking as the actual show.

It’s truly a small world. What started out a casual post on Facebook by an old buddy of mine promoting the show for his sister turned out to be a meeting of old acquaintances from many years ago. My conversation with Ket over the phone was no indication that he and Geetha are in fact old family friends who I believe I’ve met with many many years ago.

Once in a while my cultural side gets the better of me and I was keen to see if I would be able to get permission to photograph this amazing showcase of traditional Indian dance and music.

Manja “A Cluster of Blossoms” is the culmination of 5 years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears proudly presented by the Geetha Shankaran Dance academy. Choreographed and executed to perfection, I have nothing but admiration for the determination and dexterity I witnessed shown by the many young talented dancers, remarkable musicians, crew, families and the teacher herself who came together to put up such an excellent show.

The Show: The Goddess Saraswati willed it. From her celestial veena and magical salangai, a cluster of blossoms springs forth, giving new fragrance and joy to her devotees. And from her song, inspiration flows through the artistry of her sincere devotees – Geetha Shankaran-Lam, Arvinder Raina, Bhavani Logeswaran, Nayanika Ghosh Chowdhury, Sreerag Sajeev, Hariraam Tingyuan Lam and friends – in a showcase of Indian classical music and dance, featuring Odissi, Bharatanatyam, and Kathak performed to live music.

With every technical detail meticulously taken into account, costumes, sound, stage lighting and set ambience right down to the intricate dance steps and facial expressions, nothing was left to chance. It’s certainly a tall order to bring this all together without losing your mind over each and every detail and yet it all fell neatly in place like a well oiled machine of individual cogs working seamlessly together in unison.

The musical score and repertoire during the interludes was out of this world, hair raising even. Certainly a healthy dose of food for the soul I’ve not experienced in a long time.

Hosted by the Temple of Fine Arts in Kuala Lumpur, the show is on tonight. If you don’t already have tickets, you’re certainly missing out on an epic event. I believe it’s sold-out and for good reason.

The Photography: Shooting at a show such as this requires lots of restraint as moving around near the stage is often not an option as it disrupts and blocks the view of the audience. Being a technical rehearsal, I was hence happy that I had the freedom to choose where to shoot from and had the whole back row of seats to myself. I’ve been sorely disappointed with other shows I’ve shot using my auto-focus, auto everything lenses as they just can’t seem to keep up with the action. I had tossed an old 80-200mm MF lens into my bag as an after thought and it worked out to be the lens of choice in the end.

Manual focussing with only my eye sight as my guide and a little white dot in the viewfinder is challenging and a huge risk that back home I’d be looking at images totally out of focus on the computer screen. The dancers had so many complex movements and postures that with even the slightest change in distance to me, rendered an out of focus moment. However, while there were duds, there were an equal number of crisp and clear shots much to my delight. Stage lighting with so many colours to deal with at the same time was brutal but translated nicely on many of the shots.

It was an evening of seductive dance, enchanting music, haunting narration and show stopping performances. My thanks to both Geetha and Ket for graciously allowing me to be a tiny part of their show. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have up their sleeve next.

The Roving Photographer
May 8, 2016

For more info on Geetha Shankaran Dance Studio, visit their Facebook page.

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