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An immigrant from Kerala, India, acclaimed classical Indian dance proponent Santha Bhaskar moved to Singapore in 1956 following her marriage to fellow dance instructor, K. P. Bhaskar. A pioneer of Indian dance in Singapore, the dancer and choreographer has been artistic director and choreographer of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society since their inception. Also an accomplished musician, she also holds a diploma in Carnatic music from the Tamil Nadu government. Her repertoire of work is especially noted for its cross-cultural influences, oftentimes incoporating elements of Malay, Chinese and even Thai dance, in an elegant fashion that pays tribute to the multi-cultural environment which she practices her art in. In 1990, Santha received the Cultural Medallion for her contribution to dance.
Born in 1939 in Kerala, India, Santha Bhaskar grew up preferring Math and Science to her daily routines of dance and music practice. Pursuing a career in dance was far from her mind but encouraged by her father, she continued her artistic education alongside her main science and accountancy college schooling. In India, Santha was schooled in the dance traditions of mohini attam, bharatanatyam and kathakali under the tutelage of the late Ramunni Panicker, Guru Kunchu Kurup and Kutralam Ganesam Pillai. She graduated from the Chempakassary Arya Kala Nilayam in Kerala with a solid foundation of muscle training and movement that characterises the sinuous, sensual signature of classical Indian dance.
All the doubts of choosing dance or science, however, was cut short when an arranged marriage led her to Singapore, where she joined her new husband, K. P. Bhaskar, at his arts school to teach dance.
Opening her eyes to the multiculturalism that is Singapore, Santha started to infuse her choreographic works with the rhythms and movements of Chinese and Malay dance. The result of which was the definitive The Butterfly Lovers (1958) that married Indian and Chinese traditions in a then-novel interpretation of the classic Chinese legend.
Santha’s awareness of and appreciation for the different forms of dance in the region was what drove her to study traditional Chinese and Malay dance in Singapore, and Thai dance and music at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. In return, that openness to other traditions have informed her many, distinct works—from Manohra (1996) at the Singapore Arts Festival, to Rasa & Dhwani (2003) at the Esplanade, where she had set verses by Singaporean poets in all four official languages to dance.
Santha’s contribution to the stage also went beyond the short-lived run of each performance. On a more long-term and ingrained way, Santha and her husband had put the future of classical Indian dance firmly in tomorrow’s picture with their school, Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society, which has laid the foundation for over 2,000 students to learn the art form.
A thoroughly grounded personality who believes—like her husband—that moral values yoked to art is what truly defines an artist, Santha was initially hesitant to receive the Cultural Medallion awarded to her in 1990, as she felt a recognition was due more to the dance form she promoted, than to the herself as a singular artist. Eventually, on the advice of fellow Cultural Medallion winner and Singapore theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun, she accepted the award.
Santha has also received the Natya Rani (Queen of Dance) Award in 1975 by the Singapore Indian Film and Dramatic Society and the Kala Ratna (Jewel of the Art) Award by the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Association.
Besides spending her time at Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society, Santha has devoted herself to her art in different ways—as teacher and resident choreographer at the National University of Singapore’s Centre for the Arts, and as a contributor to seminars and performing arts magazines.
On 26 Feb 2022, Santha Bhaskar passed away at the age of 82 in Singapore.
Marabu – Footprints of an Artist, a dance biopic on her life, will be staged from 18 – 20 Nov 2022 as part of Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts.
Born in Kerala, India.
Married K. P. Bhaskar.
Moved to Singapore with K. P. Bhaskar.
Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer, Bhaskar’s Academy of Dance.
Created The Butterfly Lovers.
Received Singapore citizenship.
Received Natya Rani (Queen of Dance) Award, Singapore Indian Film and Dramatic Society.
Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer, NUS Centre for Musical Activities, National University of Singapore.
Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society registered as a non-profit teaching institution.
Choreographer, Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society.
Received the Kala Ratna (Jewel of the Art) Award, Singapore Indian Fine Arts Association.
Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to dance.
Bhaskar’s Arts Academy registered as a non-profit company.
Artistic director and chief choreographer, Bhaskar’s Arts Academy.
Studied Thai dance, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, on an ASEAN scholarship.
Led Singapore delegation at the World Folk Song Festival, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, China.
Passed away at the age of 82 in Singapore.
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Santha Bhaskar performing in the Bharat Natyam series for Radio and Television Singapore. 1964.
TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.
In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.