The power of dance

Performer Suneetra Karam Singh tackles emotional impact of sexual assault

Suneetra Karam Singh in the section called "valor and bravery." Photo courtesy Nick Dollimount

When something is too complicated to explain with words, we turn to representation. We turn to art.

For Suneetra Karam Singh, a powerful message is sometimes better conveyed with fewer words. Singh's self-directed, self-produced theatrical show, "The Sacrilege of the Goddess," expresses her incredible story through dance.

"A lot of people think that rape is the worst thing that could happen to you," says Singh, "but if you think about it that way how can you get past it?"

Singh performs in a black-box style theatre with no sets and very few props. She is the only dancer in the show but is accompanied by four musicians, all members of Halifax-based band SuryaChandra. Live music adds an irreplaceable element to the show, providing the audience with an eclectic mix of acoustic guitars, bongos, a harp, a cello, a bouzouki and talented vocals.

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Singh forms a snake with her hands in "shame and disgust," accompanied by cellist Julia Feltham. Photo courtesy Nick Dollimount

"It was an original music score for SuryaChandra," says Singh. I'd say 'make it dance-y' or I need drums here and we changed parts of their songs."

"The Sacrilege of the Goddess" was performed to an audience of about 140 people on Saturday, Jan. 14 at the Neptune Studio Theatre in Halifax. Singh will be dancing across Canada to raise awareness about rape. 

The show is divided up into eight parts, with each section representing a different emotion. The story begins with "shock and denial," being the initial feeling after sexual abuse. A large white spotlight draws a circle on center stage; Singh sits with her back to the audience. Her hand moves slowly towards the sky. She's barefooted. The original choreography envisioned by Singh communicates thoughts of confusion, repetition, intoxication. She intentionally dances out of step.

"I have been trained in classical dance for over 20 years," says Singh. "When I was writing my book I had to journey through my life. When I thought about how to choreograph it, I looked at the emotions associated with the steps of that journey."

Making a change

Originally from Malaysia, Singh holds a degree in psychology as well as a degree in philosophy and religion from Mount Saint Vincent University.

"I wanted to make a change. You can't do it from inside Malaysia," she says. "The police rape women in Malaysia. My father tried to make a change within the country and he was put in prison and tortured for four years. They put him in a small, dark cell with no toilet. He was leading a union march. Unions are illegal."

It was only within the last few years that Singh was able to find strength and peace in herself after the rape. She describes herself as being "stuck in the dilemma of pain," which is a theme explored in her show.

The journey

Another memorable step in her emotional journey is "shame and disgust."

"No man will want her, she's used goods," says the narrating voice.

Eerie and frightening, low, staccato notes resonate from the cello as the lights turn blood-red. Singh forms a snake with her arms and hands and uses her feet to create percussion. Her movements say "get it off me" as if she's trying to slink away from something ugly and diseased.

Her costume is made of red and gold fabric, embellished and ornate. She wears two ankle-bracelets that make pleasant jingle noises when her feet hit the ground. Her arms are decorated with gold jewelry and a jeweled "tikka" headpiece gives off an impression of royalty.

The choreography and emotion becomes more and more intense as the show progresses until the fifth stage, "valor and bravery." Ideas of justice, strength and anger come across in this dance as Singh comes at her attacker with a large trident, to "destroy the rapist." Her movements are wide and sweeping. Her eyebrows move up and down as she rolls her shoulders circling her prey.

The last three stages include themes such as "peace" and "happiness." As the show progressed the audience remained captivated and hushed. The performance received a loud, standing ovation.

"I wanted to create an environment where a woman that has been raped is not the criminal. I'm hoping that more people will support this undertaking of mine."

Comments on this story are now closed

sounds fabulous. Is the dance coming to Saskatoon?

Posted by jean short | Jan 18, 2022

I was in the original audience and it is well worth seeing. Suneetra brings home the surreal emotions of this terrible event even to someone who doesn't know it first hand. She is truly brave to take this on alone. We wish her all the best across Canada and abroad.

Posted by andrea manthorne | Jan 19, 2022

Dancing is truly a basic force in our everyday social dealings. Sensitive issues are dealt and exposed in a subtle way though dance. Joe | Flyer Online

Posted by Joe | Jan 19, 2022