Contrary to popular belief, Divya did not fall head over heels in love for dance at the age of four when she took up her first ballet class. In fact, she wanted to be a pilot or racecar driver before she was certain she was best suited for dance. “It was somewhere along the way that I liked the movement and mobility aspect of dance; but there is so much more to dance than just movements,” Divya tells me. Ballet was the first dance form she had learnt – and she stuck to it for next 14 years. “It was mostly through watching performances that further strengthened my admiration for dancers, and through experiencing it myself I discovered my love for it, understanding that it is an endless journey of finding a balance between pushing one’s physical, mental, artistic abilities while injecting purpose through this form of expression,” Divya says.
Under the tutelage of Sutra Foundation, Divya has since added two more dance forms under her belt: bharatanatyam and odissi. Founded by Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, Sutra Foundation is an Indian classical dance company, with a racial mix of students – many of its senior dancers are of mixed parentage as it best represents the cross cultural Malaysian spirit. As a child of mix parentage (Indian and Chinese, or Chindian), Divya is often mistaken for a Malay. For decades, Sutra Foundation has been a champion of Indian cultural arts. “We have always believed in the necessity of spreading our horizons beyond the Indian community,” Divya says. “Sutra recognises that its Indian classical dance carries a Malaysian identity and we work closely with other associations of all sorts of cultural backgrounds, such as the Malaysian Chinese Culture and Arts Consultative Council (MCCACC) for the Blossom Art Festival Malaysia (BAFM).”
At the mere age of 13, her first international dance tour opportunity with Sutra Foundation took her to India, where she had her first duet debut with Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, whom dancers refer to as ‘Master’. Following her first international tour, she also travelled to Europe and the United States to perform for major organisations, the likes of UNESCO in Austria and the Asia Society of NYC – all while still in her teenage years. “There is a certain rush and sense of accomplishment when one is able to seamlessly string together all the elements that give the audience a more wholesome experience; from lighting, to live music, projections, stage movements, and the dance itself,” she says.
However, the jet-setter life isn’t as glamorous as a social influencer’s polished Instagram feed. “Most people think we travel in luxurious conditions, but contrary to that, we travel on a budget to make ends meet, which means we learn to survive with the basics,” Divya tells me. “We have tight schedules and hours of frequent travels in between destinations, yet we always have the most fulfilling experiences.” Being exposed to that degree of professionalism at a young age meant Divya’s understanding of discipline and independence was shaped at a very young age.
As a dancer in Malaysia, Divya thinks the growth of the Malaysian performing arts scene is hardly encouraging for aspiring artistes, particularly in fine arts. “Malaysians – both the government and general public – lack the understanding that art is just as profound as science and technology. There are notable foundations that make the effort of organising workshops and performances that give us opportunities, however there aren’t enough substantial channels for long term education,” Divya says. “The sophistication of mankind in the progression of art through the centuries has birthed creativity and imagination that is key to the progress of this day and age.”