I recently visited the Sutra Foundation in Titiwangsa to meet with Datuk Ramli Ibrahim and Tan Mei Mei in the anticipation of their latest contemporary Odissi production Amourous Delight. The show is set to be showcased at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre from the 15th- 19th March 2017.
The Sutra Foundation’s contemporary Odissi production Amorous Delight returns after a highly successful run last year. Malaysian fashion icon Dato’ Seri Bernard Chandran is set to design elegant and extravagant costumes set to sparkle on stage. The original dance composition and artistic direction is inspired by a Sanskrit anthology of a hundred short verses (the Amarushataka), a palm-leaf manuscript.
Published by Museum Rietberg Zurich (2006), it was collaboratively written by Eberhard Fischer and Dinanath Pathy. In the manuscript, there are magnificent palm leaf illustrations by an unknown master engraver hailing from the Nayagrah district of Odisha. These illustrations are based on the 9th-century Amarushataka, a Sanskrit anthology of 100 short verses. A complete tapestry on the sense of belonging, these verses display the entire spectrum of the experience of love, in intense poetic language.
Calling this manuscript “the point of embarkation”, Ramli says that he saw its potential as a lyrical dance production.
Tan Mei Mei of Sutra Foudation walks us through her career in Odissi dance
How did you end up specialising in Odissi dance?
I fell in love with Odissi the first time I saw Sutra’s performance many years ago and became a fan. I was so lucky to have met Sooraj Subramaniam, Sutra’s senior dancer in Perth. We started training Odissi classes together during our leisure time and he encouraged me to continue my dance training with Sutra when I came back.
What training or work experience did you undergo?
My first dance training was in ballet, which I did from the age of five until high school. I then picked up Barathanatyam dance after my SPM. After completing university in Perth, I returned home and joined Odissi classes once a week at Sutra Dance Theatre. I was soon picked by Ramli Ibrahim to join the intermediate classes and learn as many items as I could. I now teach other dancers at the Sutra Foundation.
What are some of the great things about your job?
I love to dance, and it is a big part of my life. I find comfort, joy and confidence in what I am doing. Travelling is one of the great things about dancing and touring with Sutra. I am privileged to have performed in some exquisite places on dance tours, such as the Jagmandir Palace in Udaipur, Hampi in Karnataka and Neemrana Fort Palace in Rajasthan. Dance has taken me all around the world. There is no one place that I can say is the best, each venue has a special place in my heart.
What are the challenges?
My biggest challenge is improving my Abhinaya (facial expression), which is not something that can be learnt entirely from teachers but has to come from maturing the Rasa (feeling) from within. When age catches up – as I’m the oldest female dancer in the group – I need to work harder to keep up with the younger ones.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in dance?
It is easy to dream of your career; it takes a lot more effort to put your dreams into action. Don’t just wish for it but work hard for it. You will need to be extremely dedicated.