CLASSICAL dancer January Low Wye San has come a long way since making her solo debut on stage under the Alarippu To Moksha series at the age of 13.
The 18-year-old will be performing the arangetram as her graduation dance next month, the seventh student to do so since Sutra Dance Theatre started in 1978.
“Being allowed to do the arangetram shows that your guru feels that you are ready for the whole world to see you perform. It’s a lot of pressure, but I’m certainly excited about it,” says January.
With only eight weeks to prepare, January spends lots of time practising and perfecting her moves.
“The 90-minute solo dance will be accompanied by live music and beautiful costumes; it’s almost as grand as a Hindu wedding,” she says.
A protégé of Malaysia's dance guru, Ramli Ibrahim, January was introduced to the world of dance at the age of eight.
“My father knew Ramli and he persuaded me to watch him practise. I was not so keen at first because I thought it was just some Bollywood dance, but I was wrong,” says January, who was learning classical ballet at that time.
Under Ramli’s tutelage, January has mastered the bharatanatyam and odissi dances, which she now teaches at Sutra.
January, who recently completed her A-Levels at Help Institute, juggled her time well between studies and dance.
“I try not to skip classes, but when there is a performance, I manage to catch up by obtaining notes from my friends,” says the eldest of three siblings.
She adds: “Once I took a month-long break from dancing just to concentrate on my studies. Usually it’s half a day at school or college and half a day at Sutra.”
Although her mother Cecelia is of Chinese-Indian parentage, January says it did not play a role in influencing her love for Indian dance.
“I was not brought up traditionally as we are Catholics. A lot of what influenced me was through learning the dances, the various movements, and being able to perform them. I am also very enchanted by Hindu mythology,” she adds.
Her father, James Low, is the general manager of Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok.
In 2001, January played the lead role in Sutra's production of The Garden of Earthly Desires, after which she accompanied Ramli on a three-week performance in India.
“It was a significant year for me as I was able to do so much and even film a documentary in India,” she says.
On what it's like to be Ramli’s student, January describes him as a father figure. “He cares for us very much and is very protective when we go for performances; he makes sure we are well fed and well rested.”
Like a born dancer, January does not find it difficult to master the techniques. “I’m quite a fast learner and Ramli teaches me an item a day. Of course, sometimes he’s quite intimidating, especially when you repeat mistakes. But it’s a privilege to be his student.”
After dancing for 10 years, she adds: “I find it easier to express myself now, whether it’s through words or movements and I’m more independent and disciplined.”
Odissi and bharatanatyam are “different in form yet equally beautiful in their own ways”, she says. “Indian classical dances vary in terms of jewellery, costumes, and make-up, and there are nine different rasas or moods which we use to express ourselves in the dances.”
On her future endeavours, January says: “I'll be taking a break from studies and indulging in dance until I decide what to do next.”
“I would love to be a professional dancer and live in India, which I adore – from its food to its smell, language and culture,” she adds.
That January loves all things Indian is evident to her friends.
“She wears a huge bindi on her forehead, has a large collection of bangles, loves wearing sarees, enjoys watching Hindi movies, and is actually taking up the language just so she can understand the dialogue in those movies,” says fellow dancer Revathi Tamil Selvan.
January's favourite Hindi movies are Devdas and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. For those thinking of taking up dancing, January says: “Age six is too young because your attention span is too short, but one is never too old to learn. We have mothers who come in and have a blast.”
Convent Bukit Nanas student Revathi, who will sit for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia exam this year, is an ardent fan of Indian classical dances and has performed with January on many occasions.
“I enjoy being a different person on stage when I dance. It's a great way to release tension and stress from school and has made me more confident,” she says.
Revathi started taking dance lessons from Ramli at the age of seven. “My mother wanted me to dance because she did not get a chance to do so herself, so I was forced into it at first.”
Asked how her time-table is at the moment, Revathi says: “Packed. However, I attend tuition classes twice a week, which makes it easier for me to catch up in school.”
Another up-and-coming dancer from Sutra is Jagathesywara Goopaalan, 15, who made his dance debut on July 6 in front of an audience.
“I'm learning a lot from Ramli who always has fantastic ideas. I love the bharatanatyam as it consists of sharp and firm movements,” he says.
The Form Three student of SMK Bandar Tasek Puteri commutes from Rawang weekly to attend classes at Sutra in Kuala Lumpur.
“Dancing gives me spiritual happiness; it has turned my life around and changed the way I see the world,” he says, adding that he loves the challenge. “The more you advance, the harder it becomes, especially in getting the feelings right.”
His ultimate dream is to dance like Ramli Ibrahim. “I even follow the way he stands and the way he talks; I think he is really cool,” says Jagathesywara, whose ambition is to score straight As in the Penilaian Menengah Rendah exam this year and to be a successful geologist.
Those who would like watch January and Revathi in action can do so on July 18 at Sutra Dance Theatre which is staging Pallavi II at 8.30pm. For enquiries, call 03-4021 1092.
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