Dance Review: Triumphant return for Bhaskar’s classic Butterfly Lovers

butterfly lover

Bhaskar Academy of Arts

Victoria Theatre, Sunday (December 19)

More than six decades after it was first staged, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy production Butterfly Lovers has returned with an energetic new cast and an elegant fusion of Indian and Chinese cultures.

Butterfly Lovers, which first premiered in 1958, was Cultural Medal recipient Santha Bhaskar’s first full-length production in Singapore based on a film version of the Chinese epic she had seen.

Much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the story of star-crossed lovers Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, who sacrifice their love when Yingtai’s parents arrange her engagement to another man, pulls at the heartstrings.

In the new adaptation of the classic, co-presented with the Chinese Cultural Center Singapore, choreographer Meenakshy Bhaskar paid homage to the context and intent behind her mother’s earlier work, while adding a new dimension by infusing movement of Chinese dance and music in the sequences.

Musician Neil Chua’s moving performance on the ruan, a traditional Chinese instrument, in the first act transported the audience to a bygone era.

Scenography in vibrant tones such as peacock blue and scarlet added a touch of dramatic style.

While it took some getting used to the sight of dancers performing bharatanatyam in traditional Chinese garb, the carefully calibrated choreography merged the two styles seamlessly to present a unique and unconventional routine.

The star of the series was Malini Bhaskar, who disappeared into her role as Shanbo, presenting a nuanced portrayal of a masculine yet vulnerable hero, brilliant scholar and heartbroken lover.

Malini’s perfectly timed duets with Sarenniya Ramathas as Yingtai were such a visual delight that audiences wanted to see more together.

Acclaimed composer Rajkumar Bharathi has taken a new approach to musical score, departing from traditional Carnatic music and complementing the flow of drama with clever shifts in tone and tempo.