Seven-months pregnant and being a dancer does not cancel each other out. Clasically trained dancer, January Low is the undaunted mother resolute to illustrate this point with a rare Odissi performance together with choreographer, Rathimalar Govindarajoo. Eksentrika delves into the hearts and minds of the dance sisters, to discover the spirit behind their unique show.
Once proteges of famed Ramli Ibrahim, January and Rathimalar have been active in the performing arts circuit, both local and abroad, long enough to earn a name in their own right.
Both are adept in the Indian classical dances of Bharatanatyam and Odissi and each have also explored other forms of classical and modern dances such as ballet and contemporary.
Despite distinctly different styles of dancing, the two combined it by collaborating for a dance piece entitled ‘rehab’ in 2014 and then again for ‘return’ last year.
Their two prior shows, as the name suggests, were a form of rehabilitation and bouncing back.
“Jan and I came together in a place and time where we needed that ‘healing’. More for me than her, because I finally decided to go on my own and survive as an independent artist,” Rathi said to Eksentrika in an email.
At the staging of ‘rehab’, Rathimalar was at a turning point in her life, having decided to break away from the insulation of being in a dance troupe to try and carve a niche on her own.
The insecurities and fear that dogged Rathimalar’s choice pushed January into the role of anchor, supporting and affirming Rathimalar’s pursuit at the time.
The result were two performances that were etched in the memories of each individual who watched them.
Their performance were raw, untamed, untainted. Original.
“‘rehab’ was really about healing ourselves and giving us an outlet to pour our emotions into and give us the therapy that we much needed through dance.
“Both of us were at very interesting cross roads not knowing where we were going to end up,” January revealed in her blog.
Months later, January relocated to Jakarta and switched roles from playing dancer to being a full time mother.
Being 1,188 km away from loved ones, it finally dawned upon January that she may never have the opportunity to dance ever again.
Dance has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, throughout school, college and university and I think I took it for granted that it would always be there.
The frustration rose gradually and on April 21, it spilled over in a blog post. Simply titled ‘rant’, January expressed the conflict within her – between choosing to be a full time mother of two or a full time dancer.
“Hiring someone to watch over my kids could mean that I could participate in any production I wanted, attend any residency in the world and focus on my dance but would that really solve my problems?
“Yes, I would be able to dance but what would take away my guilt. This fucking guilt is the problem really.
“I went to bed one day and woke up with this guilt that I can’t shake off. That’s what happens when you become a mother, you have this guilt and that guilt eats you up.”
A week after that post, January discovered she was pregnant for a second time. By then, she had given her word to perform a solo repertoire in Bobo KL for this year’s Deepavali celebrations.
Now, it was Rathi’s turn to be the pillar of strength and wise counsel to January, aiding to prevent the desire for dance from burning out.
She persuaded January not to back out of the dancing gig already in place, inadvertently setting the motion for their odds-defying show, ‘bloom’.
Geographical barriers and distance failed to deter their practice together as they scheduled regular Skype dates to discuss and practise their dance routines.
“Having Rathi understand my situation helped me tremendously and as difficult as it was on some days, it was not impossible,” January said.
I guess when you want something bad enough you stop focusing on problems and try to look for solutions.
For their previous performances, the girls had learnt to be efficient with their time and could utilise just one hour to practice while January’s twins napped.
Despite being advised to tone down their performance with a less strenuous Odissi-inspired show, both dancers decided to go full on classical.
January is convinced that her body, with over 20-years experience in dance, is prepared for and accustomed to the physical demands of a three-day traditional show.
“I guess the days leading up to the show will require me to rest a little more, keep my feet up and keep myself hydrated at all times.”
Rathi’s talent for dance first became obvious to her mother when as a five-year-old, the toddler memorised and effortlessly mimicked the dance steps watched from a Kamal Hassan movie, Salangai Oli.
Despite being single parent, she fully supported Rathi’s passion for dance and used to bring Rathi to and from dance classes at the Temple of Fine Arts (TOFA) by travelling on the public mini busses.
It was during one of these trips that Rathi found Odissi and was immediately captivated.
“We usually passed by Vivekananda Sabha as we walked to the bus stop and one day, I laid eyes on a little Chinese boy dancing Odissi.
“It was none other than little Mavin Khoo performing exquisitely. I remember hanging onto the gate, just gaping in awe watching him.”
Weeks after that fateful incident, she was gifted a ticket to watch Night of Purnama, an Odissi show by Sutra Dance Theatre.
It was there she witnessed dance heavyweights such as Ramli, Geetha Shankaran Lam, Mavin Khoo, Suchitra and Roopa Lavanya deliver an unforgetable Odissi show.
“I fell completely in love with the entire production and all I wanted was to be a part of it.
Shortly after that, she was enrolled to also learn Odissi with Sutra as she continued on with Barathanatyam in TOFA.
Fast forward to present day, Rathi is organising a grand show similar to the one that inspired her as a child, only now she is the star of the performance, together with dance partner, January.
She has been busy making the necessary preparations for January’s arrival, including the costumes, which are designed by Roova Li Juan and the music, by composer, Edwin Anand.
“bloom completes the cycle of our rehabilitation. From the very beginning, from how we started to where we’ve come now, it has all been a healing (process) for the both us.
“It is this very process that has brought the empowerment to us.” Rathi says.
bloom is took place on October 21, 22 and 23 at Bobo KL in 2016. Are you a dancer too? Get in touch with us by dropping a message to [email protected]
Cover image by S. Magen