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December 1, 2012

Less dance and more discussion on a wide range of topics from neuro-aesthetics and “glass ceiling” apathy to the rise of social media and a rapturous 5000 strong crowd in a small temple town coloured my 30 days of November. With the final month of the year upon us and the expected “pralaya” of performances and concerts on the city’s calendar, I should normally be in full rehearsal mode with sweaty kurtas and loads of water nearby for refreshment. Instead, I have cancelled my only December performance of ANDAL ANDAL with my sister Pritha and plunged headlong into speaking, debating and participating in a wide range of non-dance spaces to give myself an intellectual and spiritual “kick.”

In Hyderabad, I met the fascinating Dr. Semir Zeki who laid out the brain’s amazing ability to respond to colour, passion, sex, love, music and dance and why we act and react the way we do. At the ground breaking seminar titled ART, BEAUTY and SCIENCE, painters, land-artistes (that is also a new term for me), neurologists, psychiatrists and the sole dancer (moi) listened and shared our philosophies about art, logic and the eternal mystery of the human body and mind that defies formulae, physics, computation, scientific calculation and projected behaviour. In Coimbatore, I spoke about breaking the glass ceiling for women impressarios – tracing my own history as producer on TV and the stage in the US and India. Although not a lucrative career, unless one follows the money into Bollywood staging and wedding entertainment, the idea of an independent arts producer is still new to the elite audience and to the Indian society at large.

Home in Chennai, a lively media panel debating the pros and cons of traditional media vs social media saw me hold the flag high for the wonders of YOU TUBE, FACEBOOK and TWITTER for the arts. By subverting the power play of the Big Boys who serve as gatekeepers to opinion, with the arts being ignored, avoided or just shut out – dancers, musicians, poets and all culture makers have thrived through the wonders of social media. Over the past year I have watched several dancers ramp up their PR through Facebook by posting a variety of images in performance and off stage moments. YOU TUBE has become the single most valuable resource for dance history teachers and scholars and where will we all be without the wonders of the net?

As December dawns, our team at Arangham and is gearing up for the historic EPIC WOMEN conference/performance conclave. From Srirangam to Sydney, we have an exciting variety of speakers and dancers with as many as six world premieres scheduled over the three day event at Mylapore’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium. I am both excited and nervous about the event that has already generated so much anticipation after the stunning success of last year’s MAD AND DIVINE WOMEN event. With a publication by an international literary imprint scheduled after the event, there is much to do and so much more to look forward to. This year we have enrolled a few interns in arts management and all of them are universally breathless with the amount of work and responsibility assigned to them already. And the conference has not even begun! And to think that all the work only happens on stage? Hah! I wish! 80% of the event is pre-production!

We also wish dancer Priyadarsini Govind every success as convenor for the NATYA KALA CONFERENCE that begins after EPIC WOMEN concludes. Chennai will have as many as ten days of dance deliberations and so many opportunities to listen and absorb information and inspiration from a dynamic smorgasbord of talent. Watching dance, talking shop, meeting friends, sipping kaapi, rehearsing, performing, networking, romancing, arguing while airing and wearing saris, walking barefoot in temple corridors and shedding a tear for souls departed from our views.

For thousands of dancers and dance rasikas, Chennai is the Mecca/Tirupati/Vatican/Jerusalem for the next month. While there is so much more happening other than classical music and dance in this fast changing city, it is the largest music and dance festival in the world and it has started all over again. As the year ends, I give thanks to the incredible eleven months that I have had. Four continents, 32 cities and innumerable spaces, stages and venues to share my dance, thoughts, writings and teachings. Beginning with the magical sunrise at Angkor Wat – Cambodia – on January 1st, 2012 has gone by in a complete and dizzying whirl. I send special thanks to all the collaborators, composers, designers, scholars and friends who met me this year and watched/shared/discussed dance, art and life with me. It was a year in which I was able to revisit five of my favourite solo presentations – SEVEN GRACES, NEELAM, A MILLION SITAS, MA3KA and AVANI as well as create a one time performance of SWARNA KANNAN with my sister Pritha. This last work was a homage to my great aunt the beloved composer Ambujam Krishna and is now available as a DVD with interviews and footage of the creative process. Another DVD is being prepared of the historic revival of KAISIKA NATAKAM, the 13th century ritual theatre festival in my ancestral Tamilnadu temple town Thirukurungudi. For students of ritual performance, this will be a real treat.

Opening the newspapers on December 1st brings with it the expected barrage of concert listings. This year, both THE HINDU and TIMES OF INDIA have printed special supplements to the annual MARGAZHI dance season. For a change, they have a combination of young and experienced writers to contribute and a clear absence of the divas and devas who normally rule the editorial roost by foisting their own opinions about "classicism" and "purity" upon the public. Except that, according to the TIMES OF INDIA, Carnatic vocalist TM KRISHNA is already a GOD to his faithful flock.. So who needs a Padma award? Now who is crowned as the Bharatanatyam Goddess of the season? Anyone's guess!!!

So, welcome one and all to my favourite city in the world. My home will be filled soon with guests, and it is a rapturous time to be a performing artiste.

To all the EPIC WOMEN and MEN who will be a part of this incredible month called THE SEASON, let it all begin… Drum roll... Sound the Melam!

Dr. Anita R Ratnam

Twitter: @aratnam
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