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February 1, 2011

It is a matter of pride when collaborators you admire and trust also win accolades for their sustained contribution. The moment of pride and joy came last week when the Tamilnadu government announced the list of names for the KALAIMAMANI awards. Among the many names were film director Rajiv Menon, TV anchor Revathy Sankkaran and theatre director Prasanna Ramaswamy. All three individuals are passionate about their areas of work and have been involved with one or more of my projects. It was Rajiv Menon, my neighbor, who called me one day many years ago and convinced me to enter cinema with a small role in KANDUKONDEIN KANDUKONDEIN. The successful movie also starred Tabu, Aishwarya Rai (before she broke through) and Mamootty. Revathy Sankkaran is my eternal foster mother, guide, research pillar, co performer and friend on stage and off. Her simple exterior conceals a magnet like memory and a vast imagination and knowledge that only 'karma' endows. Prasanna Ramaswamy is one of the most intense women I have met. With Tamizh as her bedrock of communication, she constantly negotiates the idea of exile and migration of the individual and community. I have been an actor in many of her plays - AKAM, KAADAL VARI, ALL TOO REAL and now in KARNA. Working with Prasanna is to stay on your toes as an actor. Dance training helps to anchor mood-flow and physical 'presence' but that, I have learned, is also not something taught in dance class. It comes from working and observing THEATRE in progress. It is the democratic process of a theatre work that I have always admired, when the entire cast is present during rehearsals and not only when their scene or part is being rehearsed. The amount of emotional investment needed to animate a particular scene is taught and melodrama is normally kept in check. The script becomes a constant touchstone and the director is the master puppeteer. There are many lessons to be learned from dancers working in theatre. All of them good.

This is a month when much is happening in dance, music and theatre. Fresh on the heels of many of our very senior artistes being honoured (finally!) with the Padma awards, festivals and dance seasons are beginning around India and elsewhere. Many are preparing for the prestigious Kennedy Centre festival and Khajuraho continues its iconic dance event in the chilly nights of February.

I travel across continents twice this month as well as open the contemporary dance festival in Kozhikode, Kerala. Besides continuing to perform and share my new and very successful Neo Bharatam work A MILLION SITAs,(AMS for short), this is also a month where I wear my 'AMMA' hat several times. A welcome change from the other life of an artiste. The two most recent showings of AMS in Bengaluru and Chennai brought very large and warm audiences. Madhu Nataraj's youthful dance company members were excellent support in back stage management, technical finesse and organization. If only more young dancers would engage with these aspects of dance! Of course, performing in Kiran Rao's newly inaugurated avatar of AMETHYST was a total joy. This is a must-see destination when anyone visits my home town.

In Bengaluru, Attakalari's contemporary dance festival and seminar would have just concluded as we speak and a few young choreographers shared their work this year. The constant aligning of western contemporary dance aesthetics upon the India-based movement artistes shadows my doubts and concerns about what really is recognized or even acknowledged as INDIAN CONTEMPORARY DANCE. That debate will take another decade to crystallize and clarify. Veenapani Chawla, Maya Krishna Rao and yours truly stand as strong counterpoints to challenge the monotone of movement and meaning from the UK and the USA. Asian Barbie dolls we surely ain't!

For now, I have to be at many airports and many of you have to frequent your dance studios or physical therapists. Take care of your feet, they carry us on and off stage and through life!

Until next time,
From warm Chennai to many extreme climates,
Dr. Anita R Ratnam
Chennai/ New York/ Kozhikode/ London

Twitter: @aratnam
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