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December 2020

Heal yourself
With the light of the sun
And the rays of the moon
With the sound of the river
And the waterfall
With the swaying of the seas
And the fluttering of the birds
Heal yourself with mint, neem and eucalyptus
Sweeten with lavender, rosemary and chamomile
Hug yourself with the cocoa bean and
A hint of cinnamon
Heal yourself with the kisses that the wind gives you
And the hugs of the rain
Stand strong with your bare feet on the ground
And with everything that comes from it
Be smarter every day by listening to your intuition
Looking at the world with your forehead
Jump, dance, sing, so that you live happier
Heal yourself with beautiful love
And always remember

You are the medicine


- Advice from Mexican healer and poet MARIA SABINA


At the last month of the year, a year that has tested and tried us in many ways, we have arrived at a SANKOFA moment. The mythical symbol of the Akan people of Ghana - the image of a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back. It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make a positive impact and to move forward.

What have these 9 months of lockdown and forced isolation given us? What have we learned about ourselves and the art that we hold so dearly? How have we faced the idea of our own mortality? How have our memories and the past bolstered or weakened us?

Those of us who took pride in the longevity of our careers and the many years spent in maturation of our art now have to rethink everything. We watch overnight sensations, who have boomeranged their way into the limelight. Or rather into the INSTA LIGHT. Everyone has an opinion, a platform and a Gab FEST session. 2 minute sensations are adulated and imitated. Instagram has become a one stop platform for retail selling, dance videos, talks, knowledge sharing and the therapist's couch. Everyone is a GENERALIST. Nobody wants a SPECIALIST.

The GOOD part of this forced isolation is that via the digital media, a whole army of new talent has emerged. Artistes, scholars, historians, philosophers, performers, intellectuals - little known names and faces have surprised so many with the depth of their learning and inventiveness of communication. We have been bombarded with the brilliant. And the banal. It is up to us to choose from the clutter. Or just stay quiet. Take pause and reflect.

We have heard from some divas on talk shows who regurgitate the same phrases again and again. Some 20 something's are already talking about their "journeys". It is charming but mostly swipe-worthy. And EVERYONE is teaching online. Even the ones who swore that they HATED the medium!
Many senior gurus have plunged into the ZOOM-BHA world of teaching - pushing through fatigue and ennui. Others have just simply given up and surrendered to misery and depression.

Some popular dancers are immersed in creating new works during the pandemic but I am almost certain that Bharatanatyam and other classically trained dancers will NOT be thinking of HOW TO SHIFT THE PHILOSOPHICAL IMPACT OF THESE PAST 9 MONTHS into their works. The visual aesthetic of the form does not lend itself to social issues unless the artiste is willing to LET GO of closely held beliefs and familiar mythological stories and IS WILLING TO SURRENDER to new physicality and THE URGE OF THE MOMENT. Let us wait and watch.

The fact remains that viewing is slowing down, numbers are drastically down and some sessions have only 1 or 2 watching. Yes, we are ALL in a state of fatigue. And no matter how much we try to rouse ourselves and whip up the enthusiasm, the digital world is getting to be like an endless circle in a spiral and an ever spinning wheel.

A lone star traveller who has used enormous determination and self belief to achieve his global success is Astad Deboo. We have ALL been enthralled by his successful engagement with the digital media and have enjoyed his short films. At this very moment, Astad is immersed in the final editing of his 4th dance film. Whew! We should all have this energy and zeal in our seventies!


# COMFORT FIRST - THEN STYLE
We have become a pyjama nation with many women discarding their upper level lingerie for comfort! I am now tucking my sarees into my pants for the various online sessions! My daily wear has become the "Anti-fit comfort first-style next" clothes. To think of the large amounts of Vitamins B, C and zinc that my body has ingested over the past 9 months. The gallons of turmeric, ginger and anything remotely herbal and healthy that I have gulped down. I am sure that I am NOT alone. For my on camera sessions, I have re-learned makeup and contouring for the flattening effect of the phone camera. To smile into that small pin point of a lens and pretend that it is your best friend!

It seems like a rewind to my TV days in NYC.


#DROWNING IN DIGITAL CONTENT
Of the myriad festivals and performance events that continue online, I really have nothing new or radical to offer as comment or opinion except that some presenters ARE thinking of a long term relationship with their art. Improvisation sessions are being conducted online by the Basement 21 contemporary dance collective this month.


Raka Maitra

Raka Maitra presented a beautifully thoughtful performance with her company at the Esplanade's KALA UTSAV dance festival. Odissi in slow motion, dancers in simple black pants, highlighted the measured unfolding of the Odissi Pallavi. Simple lighting, a well rehearsed and diverse ensemble of dancers at the Esplanade Studio Theatre created a fresh look at a classical form and its calibrated response, with deliberately structured choreography that built upon itself, layer by layer - shorn of all ornamentation.

ATTAKKALARI released a showcase of contemporary dance titled CROSSING THE SEA and Hema Bharathy dazzled as usual with her innovative and provocative style. A second showcase titled RUH, featured Gauri Sharma's daughter Taarini with contemporary dancer Ammith Kumar.

Shovana Nayaran's annual VIVIDH MAT festival featured the contrasting ideas of SHWET/SHYAM - Black and White. Featuring an interesting array of performers and speakers, the 2 day event had several highlights - among them were Sonal Mansingh's eloquent opening keynote about the very concept of VIVIDHA being the diversity and multiple perceptions of India. She wove current politics of differing opinions and the present climate of extreme ideologies. Her command of Sanskrit was both dazzling and humbling.


Leela Samson

Leela Samson appeared in yet another short feature film for Amazon Prime - REUNION. Directed by Rajiv Menon, she played a mother whose physical ailments and family complexities are amplified during the COVID lockdown. Carnatic musician Sikkil Gurucharan also played a major role in this film. The film ends with a note of hope which was the over arching mandate by the producers.


Maya Kulkarni

Jiva Arts in New York curated a lovely STILL POINT EXPANDING dance on camera festival that was presented by Sonali Skandan and Maya Kulkarni. It is the re-emergence of Maya that I am delighted about. A thinker, political scientist and a beautiful Bharatanatyam dancer in the graceful old tradition, Maya's keen mind and emphatic belief in the traditional systems and motifs of ancient cultures stood her in good stead in the post screening discussion about classical arts as social commentary. As much as I disagreed with the premise of the title, Maya's own words rang convincing and true.


#KUTTY KAHANI - EPIC SUCCESS

The runaway success of KUTTY KAHANI, the daily videos of kids retelling familiar myths has reinforced the need to look into the way education and content is curated and delivered. Ananda Shankar Jayant and her team at NATYARAMBHA have excavated virgin territory in the yawning gap created by western tunes and cartoon characters. Instead of mouthing the very same nursery rhymes, KUTTY KAHANI has served up delightful nibble-bite-sized stories by youngsters that appear and disappear in a flash but leave us smiling and wonderstruck. It has become a global sensation.

Parents and grandparents are watching with their young ones and the title song has become a daily chant.
10,000 views in the first one hour of its daily morning broadcast is surely a phenomenon!
The series runs through the end of December with more editions in the works.


#TAALAM TALKIES

Swarnamalya Ganesh

Telugu Javalis and Padams become the focus of a two part series. The debut episodes in October on Bharatanatyam icon Kumari Kamala were such a huge hit and we continue to bring you unusual content in our second edition.

Hosted by the effervescent Swarnamalya Ganesh, the film clips, sourced by Jeetendra Hirschfeld of Sathir Dance Art, gives us an illuminating glimpse into the collaborations of composers, dancers, musicians across the caste and class landscape in showcasing Bharatanatyam in Telugu cinema of the 1940s and 50s. I am hoping that young dancers will watch and see the aesthetics of form and the "frame" that so many hereditary performers displayed as they effortlessly made a segue from stage to the screen.


#NEO NARTHAKI PRESENTS

Coming up in December and flowing into the New Year, our "newbie" that is fast maturing is brimming with fresh ideas and content. Here is a sneak peek at what you can watch on this platform.

NITHYASUMANGALI REVISITED

Saskia Kersenboom

Everything old is new again. We announce a special 6 part series with dance scholar Dr. Saskia Kersenboom and her seminal 1987 publication. Now in its 6th reprint, Dr. Kersenboom is appearing on our brand new NEO NARTHAKI platform with her research as well as exclusively curated film clips and performances of hereditary artistes. Watch out for the dates. Watch dance, nagaswaram, nattuvangam, mridangam as hereditary teachers speak and perform.

N2 DECODE & TAKEOVERS

Young artiste couples are going to have their say this December on the NEO NARTHAKI platform. From December 1 to 14, watch out for various provocations and day long takeovers that will energise the new space that we have created as a safe and brave haven for new cultural workers.

The 3rd bi-monthly newsletter will come out mid December with guest editor Aranyani Bhargav.
Our first two guest editors Sanjukta Wagh and Naavikaran brought fresh perspectives to the space.
Be sure to subscribe to this exciting e-mailer which contains so many issues of diversity and new forms of art that speaks to a whole new demographic.


#SHE CHANGES EVERYTHING

She has returned. To be adored and celebrated in the season that is Hers. And this month more than 75 dancers will be appearing in two specially curated events dedicated to ANDAL. Her Bhakti, fierce intelligence and brilliant poetry that refuses to be ignored. Our/NARTHAKI.COM'S ANDAL'S GARDEN has a personal mission. To break free of the over protective patriarchal ring that has surrounded ANDAL'S life, legend and words by one community and one style of classical dance. To break out of the image of Her wearing a side knot and a garland inside the frozen frame of a Goddess. To blast through the fixed personality of a "good girl" (hardly that!) , an obedient teenager (yeah rrright!) and an ideal daughter (gimme a break!).


The broader aim of our series ANDAL'S GARDEN is to amplify Her appeal across various dance styles - Bharatanatyam (of course) but also Kathak, Manipuri, Odissi, Kathak, Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi and Kathakali. For many of the dancers this will be their VERY FIRST ATTEMPT at responding to ANDAL's verses in Tamil. Filmed outdoors in various locales across the world, our ANDAL'S GARDEN will unfold every morning at the crack of dawn at 6am IST. Accompanied by artist KESHAV's gorgeous sketches and PRIYA SARUKKAI CHABRIA's incandescent translations, we will introduce you via DANCE to the honeyed/bloodied world and words of GODAI-ANDAL.
Girl. Poet. Goddess.

Another dance series curated by California based Pranamya Suri is titled MALYADA- taken from the title of the Telugu book AMUKTAMALYADA by Vijayanagar King Krishna Deva Rayar of the 16th century CE. It means the "worn garland". The styles featured will be mostly Bharatanatyam with dancers wearing the expected attire of the Goddess.


Vyjayantimala as ANDAL

From the moment I saw Vyjayantimala as ANDAL merge into the void at the Madras Music Academy as a 10 year old, her image of the saint-poet in a pure white costume has stayed with me. With so many performers recalling their arangetram moments in her image and many more across generations reclaiming her poetry, it is an exciting time for the voice of this daring 9th century female mystic to be revisited in the light of so many exciting translations and trans-creations.


#FAREWELL & ATMA SHANTI

It has been a devastating year. So many greats have left us. To read this roll call is to feel a deep sadness of the lives that have been taken, mostly by COVID 19.

Obits 2020

A prayer for their souls and deep gratitude for the art and contribution to our lives.


#CLOSING THOUGHTS
We have entered the age of ENTERTAINMENT. We are competing for eyeballs and whether we like it or not, we have to drastically change the way we look at our art and the digital delivery models. We, the practitioners, who have our feet on the ground and, hopefully, our fingers on the pulse of the audience, MUST face this new reality. The POST COVID ERA is going to be even more challenging for my generation - so used to coasting along with the familiar systems. I have been forced to confront my listlessness to dancing again. What do I have to say? Why and how should I say it?

It seems that the pandemic has ripped the Band-Aid off a festering wound of elitism, casteism, ignorance and all around anger and hatefulness. We have found the best and the worst in our souls. We have seen strongmen try to take over democracies, authoritarian tilts, destruction of institutions and misinformation among many other things affecting our long term mental health. The urban classical dance and music community has not focused on much except its own navel gazing echo chamber. We have done little to expand Dance Advocacy and cultural re-conditioning. We have seen some (but not enough) interesting and pioneering new initiatives with younger arts managers and cultural workers attempting to reach out beyond the claustrophobic ZOOM/AIR MEET/ STREAM YARD boxes. However, the larger community of artistes and creative workers have been crippled and demoralised. Many stalwarts are being booted out of their government accommodation. It is sad and discouraging.

Since the holiday season is subdued this year, let us take this time to remember what this season was originally marked for. MARGAZHI (Dec 15 to January 14) is marked as a conscious time for reflection, meditation and quiet resonance - the mind focusing on empathy and gratitude as ANDAL'S poetry evokes so beautifully. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna on the battlefield, "Among all the months in the year, I am most present during the month of MARGAZHI". The month before the harvest (January 14 for many communities in India) is when we take a month to pause.

Christians mark this time as ADVENT (from the Latin word that means "the coming"). It is a liturgical year of preparation for the birth and the second coming of Christ. It was traditionally marked with quiet reflection, prayer and congregational singing.

The annual Chennai season will be quiet - online - with all presenters playing safe. Well known names in music and dance will be featured. Chennai artistes will get the lion share of the visibility since all recordings have been completed on various Sabha stages using only this city's cultural roster. It is an incredible array of talent but the same names also mean a reinforcing of the very same mono-aesthetic that I have been writing against. I would have liked some boldness in the programming. But it is not to be.

The clamour, gossip and laughter outside auditoriums will be missing. The throngs outside the Sabha canteens will not be there. Shops will be empty. Recording studios vacant. The GDP of our city during one single month runs into millions of dollars. This time, it will be in deficit. However, talking to dance costumers and tailors, it seems they are as occupied sending costumes via courier to Europe, USA, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, UK and Australia. At least one arm of the dance economy is holding forth!

However, the real issue is that this pandemic has destroyed the very notion of the collective. Dance, theatre, music need the physical presence of other bodies from which to refract and reflect their energies. Vinay Kumar of ADISHAKTI vehemently states that "we need to think of new narratives and new methodologies of delivery". The passion and rigour of physical classes that can sometimes stretch throughout the day can never be duplicated online.

The advantage of the online medium is its global reach. Students from every corner of the world can now log in to attend classes. A single lecture or a talk can land on every hand held device and computer that is tuned in. My own ANDAL sessions attracted attendance from several countries.

The macro view works. Details don't. The craft of dance, music and theatre are NOT suited for this current digital world. Cinema does it best.

The world will never be the same again - but perhaps, that's okay.

Adieu 2020... you have devastated so much and so many in our lives... BEGONE!

Hello 2 0 2 1... Can we dream of rejoicing, celebrating, reflecting, reviving and renewing ourselves? And for many of us TO RETURN TO THE STAGE - TO LIVE APPLAUSE....TO SEE PEOPLE IN FRONT OF US AND NOT THE COLD CAMERA????

Stay upbeat - please. The year is over. We will slowly but surely recoup and regain ourselves in the months ahead.

- Dr. Anita R Ratnam
... at home...
Survived cyclone NIVAR without connectivity for many days..
On the road again... cautiously

Twitter: @aratnam
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Instagram: @anitaratnam
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in


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Artiste giving her best at all times..
(Dec 7, 2020)


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