Obituary: Dance dean Santha Bhaskar, 82, was a multicultural pioneer

One of the first landmark works she produced with her husband was The Butterfly Lovers, based on the 1958 Chinese film of that title. He combined Chinese costumes with Indian music and dance.

She befriended ballet-trained Goh Lay Kuan and Malaysian dancer Som Said. The trio traveled to each other’s homes in the 1950s and 1960s to learn each other’s dance techniques.

The composer Zubir Said, who composed the national anthem, was the Bhaskars’ neighbor in Joo Chiat and a frequent collaborator in their work.

The pandemic has not stopped Ms. Bhaskar from creating new works. She has also experimented with creating works for digital media. She was present for the launch of the Singapore International Arts Festival (Sifa) last week, lively and alert, and happy to be commissioned for Ceremonial Enactments, one of the festival’s flagship productions.

Members of the arts community have expressed their shock and grief at his passing. A spokesperson for Bhaskar Academy of Arts said: “We are all shocked by this sudden and unexpected loss. His dedication to the arts until his dying breath reflects the journey of his life.”

Dancer, choreographer and teacher Shantha Ratii, who is in her 60s, took her first dance steps at the age of five under the tutelage of Ms Bhaskar. She said of Mrs. Bhaskar: “She is like a mother holding the hands of a child taking its first steps. His job was his oxygen. I don’t think she even considered it a job. She went about it with a smile and so much grace.

Ms. Kuo Jian Hong, whose parents Kuo Pao Kun and Ms. Goh were friends with Ms. Bhaskar for decades, said, “I don’t remember that Ms. Bhaskar was not part of my life, part of the arts community in Singapore. He was a master who never stopped exploring with childlike curiosity; a pioneer who walked side by side with the beginner; an artist who carried the often unbearable weight of supporting with grace and dignity; the nice aunt who always made me smile. Today we lost a towering figure who quietly led the charge for decades.

Wild Rice founder and artistic director Ivan Heng, 57, said Ms Bhaskar was in talks with him to organize a tribute festival for Mr Bhaskar, who died in 2013 of a heart condition.

He paid tribute to her adventurous spirit: “She was constantly innovating and always so curious about what makes Singapore multicultural. She was Singaporean at heart. And her inspiration and ideas, her life’s work, as a dancer , choreographer, teacher, were consecrated to explore and express this soul.”

Ms Sharon Tan, 56, director of the Arts Center at the National University of Singapore, said Ms Bhaskar had been an inspiration as the centre’s longest-serving tutor since 1977.

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