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April 2023

We are moving too fast
We talk too fast, decide too quickly
Move too swiftly, hate too soon
Love hastily and rage too rapidly
We need a return to the pace of our breath
A pace where we can savour life.
- American pop icon Patti Smith

NARTHAKI begins year number 24! Let that sink in!
Yes! We complete 23 years online and begin our 24th year as the GO TO dance portal!

AND…There is that elephant in the room.  THE KALAKSHETRA STORY.
We will address it at the end of this piece.

Anita Ratnam


MARCH DANCE opened the month. Chennai based contemporary dance collective BASEMENT 21  (Padmini Chettur, Preethi Athreya, Pravin Kannanur and Martin Visser) have been curating and presenting a showcase of India’s senior and emerging contemporary dancers in collaboration with the Goethe Centre. In the 5th edition, we watched premieres, films and listened to discussions on approach, intention, improvisation, diversity of form, choreographic choices and performance styles.

The square space at the Goethe Institut is demanding and an AUDIENCE IN THE ROUND can also be unnerving. As performers, we tend to face in a certain direction and create for a uni-directional audience. When the seating is raked, we need to tweak our choreography and a thorough rethink is required. Traditional dancers were accustomed to audiences being seated on 3 sides and the abhinaya portions were taught with the same line of the lyric to be performed in two angles.

Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy
Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy

Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy opened the 2023 festival with his new solo NOBODY CARES. Consciously braiding his early years of growing up in multi faith neighbourhoods, Deepak referenced these impressions with gentle gestures while moving in a zen-like stillness. Much has changed from this performer’s early years as an athletically “popping” high octane artiste. “Age”, he said in the post-performance discussion, is one of the main factors of his changing style. He is only in his early 40’s but the liquid flow of his movements wrote stories by themselves. The second part of the performance was Deepak holding a microphone and playing with words like NAMO, MANN KI BAAT, MITRON - words that Indians could immediately recognise as used by our Prime Minister. It was Deepak’s word play that took it in a different direction. Each word then spun off into rhyming consonants and set off a string of associations. The short solo ended with the dancer hitting the open microphone on his forehead. BOOM BOOM BOOM! The END.

Mee PaoMee Pao
Mee Pao

Imphal based choreographer Surjit Nongmeikapam presented his company in a moving meditation titled MEE PAO. The programme notes state that this is “a celebration for the departed souls, especially those who are deemed inconsequential”.  Stunning and deeply moving, the entire ensemble drew us into a deep meditation and collective mourning.  Using a long bamboo pole, the company, of diverse body types- male and female- created relentless visuals of heaving, wailing, writhing, pounding the floor while constantly turning.  Time, life, breath, motion - all seemed suspended and the small crowd was also held in a collective thrall. After a long time, I felt like weeping at the density of emotion and the economy of movement that played off one another. Surjit has truly matured as an artiste and his finale of inviting all of us to dance with the ensemble after they were soaked in sweat at the end was heartwarming. And dance we did! To disco lights and pounding club music - for 5 minutes nonstop.

MARCH DANCE 2023 also featured films by some of the participants. I was able to watch Masoom Parmar’s THE SPACE BETWEEN US and Anuradha Venkatraman’s ALLI RANI created for the EPIC WOMEN digital festival.
Masoom’s space of limbo between his faith and Bharatanatyam created the poetic tension for his evocative film. Funded by the IFA and shot beautifully in outdoor and indoor spaces, the short film probed his delicate movements as the shoulders shrugged in the initial ALARIPPU choreography again and again in various locations - a deep stepwell, a temple, a crowded street, inside his apartment. It left questions hovering in our minds about how diverse traditions, often seen in conflict, can be coalesced into the body and muscle memory. Perhaps Masoom can push the tension he speaks of more in the visual medium. Pushing his forehead against the stone wall, hands clawing at the steps… the camera has the potential of becoming both a potent eye and a visual designer of movement.

Anuradha Venkatraman’s ALLI RANI
Alli Rani

ALLI RANI - a powerful warrior queen of Madurai - was the focal point of performer Anuradha Venkatraman. Shot as a performance with a mostly single camera optic, this film highlighted Anuradha’s screen presence and movement language coupled with speaking dialogue. An earlier performance at the Alliance Francaise titled THE PEACOCK PRINCE illuminated her capacity to weave words and movement. This is always a tricky position for dancer-actors. When and how much to say and what the choreography can also amplify. Perhaps less words and a greater trust that the audience will fill in the narrative while movements create the dance in space.

I missed the remount of Chandralekha’s PRANA which was reset on 18 dancers. Presented at SPACES, the original home and dance studio for this iconic dance creator, the showing was lit by her longtime companion and creative collaborator Sadanand Menon, who prefaced the show with his now worn out narrative about the dismal state of classical dance.

The Great Indian Musical
Perhaps the most anticipated dance spectacle of the month - perhaps even the year - is the grand opening of the NITA MUKESH AMBANI CULTURAL CENTRE in Mumbai. Over 1000 dancers have been in the city with a total ban on any mobile phone recordings of the rehearsals. Choreographers Mayuri Upadhya, Shiamak Davar, Vaibhavi Merchant and others have been working on an original showcase under the directorial baton of Feroz Khan of the MUGHAL-E-AZAM musical fame. This red carpet opening is quite the invitation to have. We shall share images as they become available to our readers. Imagine, nearly 1400 costumes have been designed by Manish Malhotra! Whew!

Kalakshetra - protesting students
The story is still evolving as I write this. Emerging from a single Facebook post on December 24th by Leela Samson, a former director,  and then taken up by the US based NGO CARE SPACES, the long simmering discontent among teachers and students against some senior staff members erupted several weeks ago. On March 11, CP Satyajit, son of the Dhananjayans, organised a meeting on SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE ARTS at the new Bharata Kalanjali studio. Activists, dancers and musicians listened to the speakers and responded. The Kalakshetra issue was foremost in many minds.

Serious allegations of sexual abuse and high handed behaviour from the management did little to assuage the agitated students. March 30th was a particularly eventful day with all day sit in protests by the students. Media has picked up the story and it has become a subject of national debate. The expected push back of naming anyone who supports the students as WOKE LEFTISTS, URBAN NAXALS and the right wing entering the fray with a call to “SAVE INDIA AND HINDU CULTURE” is expected. In all this ruckus, the voices of the victims and the protesting students are being silenced.

It takes great courage to speak up after experiencing consistent abuse, body shaming and a barrage of inappropriate comments. When a woman finally decides to speak about her scars, it is even harder to see how other women attack her - thus consolidating patriarchy all around.
Kalakshetra is my Alma Mater. I studied at a time when its founder Rukmini Devi - Athai - was still at her creative peak. It was a heady time to be a dance student in an institution that was shaped during the independence movement. To pray under the banyan tree, listen to daily motivational and philosophical talks and then walk to our airy dance cottages to start class was a meditative exercise. I joined the institution after my BA in English Literature while I was still studying with Adyar K Lakshman and a popular dancer. Athai was not in favour of my busy performance schedule but she ran into my mother Leela, who was a force of nature herself.

Whispers of misconduct against male and female students, the high handedness of an inner circle operating like a cabal has been floating around with successive directors. To think that it has been a decade of alleged misconduct and shocking behaviour going unchecked was very disturbing. The response from the governing board has also been disappointing.

To watch the numerous video clips of protesting students, the many social media comments and the general public bulldozing the discourse with little sensitivity is not easy for any member of the Kalakshetra Alumni to accept.

As a dance platform, we have shared videos, posts and even screen shots of comments as it has evolved on our Facebook and Instagram platforms and will continue to give readers both sides of this surprising and complex story.

It is clearly a David vs Goliath story - the young protesting students against the powerful system. Who will blink first? And where are the parents of these students in all this? How do they feel about their children entering a historic institution with stars in their eyes and dreams in their hearts? How can the next generation of dance students be ensured a safe environment to study the performing arts?

Kalakshetra is but one of the four national cultural institutions of excellence attached to the Government of India. The other three are Kathak Kendra, New Delhi (where similar sexual misconduct allegations were levelled years ago), Kutiyattam Kendra, Thiruvananthapuram and Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy in Imphal. Arts management issues become even more critical in moments like these and the fact that only 40% of India’s national cultural institutions have appointed leaders is a dismal fact. When dancers, with little or no experience of people management, are placed to lead these respected bodies with long histories, many lapses are bound to occur, with some insiders taking advantage of hesitant newbies.

The sad reality of sex offenders in India is that most walk scot free and are actually invited as chief guests and feted on Women’s Day, invited to perform in festivals while the victims bury their scars and try to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

We have featured the entire timeline of events as it has been reported by the media on our homepage.

NARTHAKI enters year #24 this month. And we have lots in store for our faithful readers. A re-jig, a pivot, a new vision, and more diversity is what we took on as a challenge earlier in the year and we are on the path of evolution and change. We value all our contributors, readers and every single member of our global audience who have stayed and grown with us. As we invite views, fresh perspectives and writings from a varied template, we will continue to lean in, listen and respond more quickly to the rapidly changing eco system in the arts.

So, here we are! Starting year 23 going on #24

Keep the love of dance in your hearts, sinews and veins.

Until next time,

Dr. Anita R Ratnam
Chennai / New Delhi

Twitter: @aratnam
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Instagram: @anitaratnam
Blog: THE A LIST /

 THANK YOU. That is all I have left to say.
- Uttara Asha Coorlawala (April 1, 2023)

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