In the Spotlight: Ruby Jayaseelan

When did you start dancing?

It was after O levels. I was 16 going on 17. I joined Apsaras Arts under SMT Neila Sathyalingam.

You seem like you made a late entry to dance. Most Student in classical dance pick it up at really young age. Why did you pick it up at that time?

I could not afford to learn it when I was younger. When I started working, I decided to learn dance. Prior to that, my only involvement in dance was though participating for Singapore Youth Festivals competitions in School. I always wanted to go for dance classes when I was young but family could not afford it then. After my O levels , I worked as a banquet waitress, who could not carry the dishes properly. I cannot remember how many dishes I broke.

There was once, one of the guest just did my job of slicing up the fish and serving it in portions because I clearly could not do it. I also had poured water on customer's on countless occasions.I was not a good waitress. I am surprised how I lasted  in that line for a few years.

So, how was the initial experience of learning Bharathanatyam?

I was 17 and my teacher was just super awesome. She basically let me crash any class. When it was an advance class and there was no way I could join them, I would just sit and watch. Other times, my class mates were as young as pre-primary students and I had to ask them about the next steps etc because even they knew more than me.

She basically gave me a crash course in the first 3 months. It was  really painful and difficult but I was really motivated as well. Perhaps, my motivation stemmed from the fact that I was waiting to do it for such a long time and finally got the opportunity. I felt a lot of comfort  and every time I danced, my mind was just clear and I enjoyed that space.

I continued with Maami till when I was 23. She had a school cum performing arts centre. So, we had this unspoken deal where I perform for her and she gives me unlimited classes. There was no money involved.  She put me on stage within 3 months of learning. At that time, I felt that it was very unfair to me because I felt I was not ready. But I guess, that was her point; to push me when I was not ready.

On hindsight, all that experience with Maami has gotten me to a point that you can put me on a stage at any time and I will get the job done. I probably have made more mistakes than anyone else during a performance. I have actually frozen during a performance and noticeably made mistakes. The intense training accelerated my learning curve.

At what point in time did you decide that you are going to pursue dance full-time?

After I graduated from Polytechnic with a Diploma in Tourism and Hospitality, I was working for a year. I realised that money did not do anything for me. There was no time to spend it anyway. My work was time consuming and I did not have much time for dance.

I quit my job. I started taking on odd jobs and started to learn as much as I could from everywhere and started to teach the younger kids. 

I realised that my skill set was not as strong as I wanted it to be. So i decided  to enrol myself in the prestigious Kalashektra School  in India. That was the experience of my life.

Tell us more about that experience

It completely changed my perspective of life. Actually, you would think that this experience would make me more traditional. But it was the opposite. It was a 4 year diploma. I had only saved up money for 2 years. I still went ahead because the first year of the program concentrated on the basics and that is what I really wanted.  I was fine if I could not finish the course. I just wanted to have a strong foundation.

In Singapore, such a training was not possible. It was intense and great. It was also weird. I had a culture shock. I felt  I was not Indian at all. I thought going back to my roots will have some affinity but that was not the case. Perhaps, it was because I did not have an Indian upbringing per se. Going to India, the fact that I knew the language, it would be easy. I am Indian after all.I look Indian. I speak Tamil.

Shall we do the rest of the interview in Tamil? 

*conveniently ignores me*  

I came from a family that was not very Indian. It was very open. The social aspect was quite western in my family. I felt pretty much as a foreigner there. My best friend there was a German girl. Firstly, I was older than the rest. I was 23 when I went to India. I really felt that I was in a cult. I had to do my hair in a certain way. I had to tie my saree in a certain way. I had to wear the pottu in a certain way. It was too much for me.

Before I went to Kalakshetra, I always admired the founder Rukmini Devi. She was gorgeous. But, when I was there, it felt all too contrived. The dancing was only 2 hours a day. But that 2 hours was intense. You would dance till you vomit and you get back to dancing after vomiting. I definitely learnt alot. There was so much attention to detail. Every moment, every movement etc. 

While I was gaining technically, I did feel that I was playing a character when I was there. When I came back to Singapore after 4 months for a week long break, I could be myself again. In India, I was myself but I had to be very controlled.That controlled self was already considered out of the norm there. 

Although my first teacher was very nice and accommodating, it was not the case with the rest. I could not even ask a question during class. But yes, I did complete my 2 years and returned to Singapore.

I knew it was going to be tough in Singapore. But one project after another came. Everything sort of fell into place. I started  doing works  which were different. I found a place where my movement is bharathanatyam in its core but I have allowed myself to let other art forms in as well. My interest in inter-disciplinary art and my involvement in theatre just came together.

How did theatre happen?

Theatre actually happened before dance. I did some projects when I was in secondary school. I subsequently got involved in Ravindran Drama Group (RDG) before dance happened. I really would not consider myself an actor but inter-disciplinary work is helping me inch in that direction though. Even where theatre is concerned, I think I am more of a physical actor.

Tell us about your role in Ghost Writer

My role is very much like me. This whole process has been very organic based on each of us.There is a big part of Ruby in Priya (my character). Just like how I pursued bharathanatyam only to realise I do not want to do just that, Priya was a star student in Indian Classical dance but yearned for more and leaves to unknown terrritories, only to discover something new. There are a lot of similariites between Ruby and Priya and there have been challenges to keep them separate. A lot of the characters in Ghost Writer is very real. They were created by Haresh through each of us. 

Thursday, 9 Jun 2016 - Sun, 12 Jun 2016 
Thur & Fri: 8pm
Sat: 3pm & 8pm
Sun: 3pm

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