My friends, let's grow up
Let's stop pretending we don't know the deal here
Or if we haven't truly noticed, let's wake up and notice
Let's grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings
But please, let's not be so shocked by them.
Let's not act betrayed.
Impermanence is Life's only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability!
Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,
She strips away the unreal to show us the real
This is the true ride - let's give ourselves to it!
We are not children any more
The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost
Let's dance the wild dance of no hope!
Before I begin to express battle fatigue at the never ending dance season in Chennai and elsewhere in India, let me wish the 4 PADMA SRI dance awardees all best wishes for the honour bestowed upon them by the Government of India - - Shashadhar Acharya (Chhau), Indira PP Bora (Sattriya), Vajira Chitrasena (Kandyan dance, Srilanka) and Purushottam Dadheech (Kathak).
Significantly, there were no awards for Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi and Manipuri. The bulk of the awards went to unsung heroes who have worked silently and tirelessly in their social and medical spheres. However, the special delight was to see the name of 85 year old matriarch of Kandyan dance, VAJIRA CHITRASENA in the honour roll. I have watched VAJIRA play the drum almost daily at the evening dance classes in Colombo. Such energy, dedication and passion are rare qualities and it is a wonderful gesture to honour great artistes from our neighbouring countries. Ramli Ibrahim was also a PADMA SRI recipient two years ago.
So, to all those dancers who were busy rushing to Delhi, brown nosing political scavengers and wearing orange in their costumes to curry favour - here is a piece of advice. Dance well. Dance brilliantly. Focus on excellence and minimise the IN YOUR FACE PR campaigns. Or perhaps, one needs both these days, but mere PR has to work doubly harder to camouflage mediocrity!
It is impossible to write about dance this month without talking about the tremendously inspiring gatherings across India. What started as a reaction to the violence on New Delhi college campuses has rapidly grown into a nationwide cluster of mostly women - sitting peacefully, singing songs, painting and writing Protest Poetry. Someone brings food, someone takes an old woman home and another takes her place. It is impossible to ignore and very moving to witness.
All through December, while most of us were rehearsing and performing, I was very aware of the new ferment of dissent and resistance that was spilling onto India's streets. Each time I put on my make up to prepare for my production of NAACHIYAR NEXT, I was well aware of what many women, younger than I, were doing. Putting their lives on hold to express their support of India's democratic principles.
What is emerging is that women are at the front guard, heralding a shift back to decency and kindness. A new kind of multi armed Goddess is in the making. One where we do not need a single MAHISHA as opponent but a force that refuses to back down or stay silent in the face of brutality.
I will resist from using words like FASCIST and NAZI because that seems to be a shrill over reaction from some sections, waiting to bait and taunt the government. It is very hard today to be a moderate. That position seems to have vanished and yes, for those of us in the majority faith, the current unrest could sometimes seem "forced" or "managed". However, when women decide to leave their homes and take to the streets - for almost 2 full months - we have to take notice. No matter which side we choose to be on.
For the first time, the Indian Constitution is being read by the millennials who are learning more about the brilliant poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz whose poem "Hum dekhenge" has now become the new anthem. For the very first time, drawing room politicians are forced to answer questions demanded by their children.
Was dancing at this time being self indulgent? Was the imagination of Lord Krishna or anyone else at a time when citizens are feeling threatened by the extreme polarisation of opinion and expression a frivolous endeavour? Classical dancers and musicians have been coming under fire for being the last group of creative workers to voice ANY opinion whatsoever on the current situation. What makes the classical arts feel so smug and contented in their own cocoons? Performer and writer Anjana Rajan writes eloquently
Dance academics who live OUTSIDE India and whose passports do not carry the Ashoka wheel are the most vociferous. They are also making the most of the Indian social situation by being booked for talks 10,000 miles away! If only they would focus on the bigoted leaders in their own country! The upside of this current protest is that the PUBLIC has put the word back into the idea of the Indian REPUBLIC! Dissent and Consent are the warp and weft of democracy.
Why don't dancers TIME their repertoire, complete with the introductions, explanations, credits and THANK YOUs to all and sundry including their favourite pets? The Music Academy slots are strictly maintained for a total time of 75 minutes. So one should only time the actual dances for 60 minutes and allow for the rest of the time for entries, exits and the extra something that always happens. In several performances, artistes either ran over time or had to cut short their planned repertoire by one entire piece!
There is also something to be said about having a live orchestral ensemble which often leads the dancer into a meandering reverie - in the name of "MANODHARMA". Very few dancers are actually creating or being inspired by the music and stretch their "storytelling" into boring and tiresome nothingness!
#JATHI MUMBO JUMBO
And can we please not have any more MRIDANGIST compose dance jathis? These are so confusing and not dance worthy at all. I watched the very pretty and competent Jyotsna Jagannathan struggle with the intricate rhythms of her varnam. Jyotsna is hugely improved as a performer but her "nouveau" adavus collided with the un-danceable "chollukettu" resulting in tepid applause and mostly raised eyebrows!
In contrast, Narthaki Nataraj and Parshwanath Upadhye stood out in their respective 'varnams', choosing traditional pieces with short vintage jathis. Parsh performed a beautiful old varnam composed by Natyacharya Kittappa Pillai which was taught to him by the gracious diva Sudharani Raghupathy. Narthaki's moving Tiruarutpa by Ramalinga Adigal brought tears to my eyes - he considered mad and "she" an outcast as transgender!
Now one of our own writers on this site has commented about how a changed Parshwanath was not as entertaining while doing a traditional Kittappa Pillai varnam. I know how hard Sudharani Raghupathy worked to help him imbibe the relaxed and leisurely pace of the composition and how much praise I heard about Parshwanath's rendering of it. It is for Parsh NOT to bend to popular or critical opinion and follow his path. His constant searching for a way to connect brings him to "abhinaya" moments like "CROCODILE TEARS" while Yashoda refuses to believe Krishna's sad face. Literally showing "crocodile" and then "tears". Another dancer slowly tears petals from a flower with the western metaphor... "HE LOVES ME. HE LOVES ME NOT".
# ACADEMY AS DANCE DON!
The TILLANA is morphing into anything but! Many dancers are performing to various themes on peace, rivers, compassion as a final closing item. Pavithra Srinivasan chose to close on a folk tale which was an odd choice for the afternoon slot at the Academy. Pavithra has an extraordinary calmness in her demeanour and a beautiful style that is such a pleasure to watch. If only she would choose her pieces with more care and not get "lost" in the music and herself!
With its 2pm slot now called the "Black Hole", all it needs is the 4pm slot to be also filled! Then we can all bring rollaway beds or mattresses, tiffin boxes and pillows and just camp out in the foyer of the Academy! The canteen this year was a huge let down and certainly not the "talking point" of any Instagram or Facebook post! The runaway hit canteens were Parthasarathy Sabha, Narada Gana Sabha and Mylapore Fine Arts.
I am yet to understand why the Music Academy needs the morning talk sessions. We have just been "conferenced out" with 4 back to back events in December. Why would we want to wake up to listen to a question about "Can you achieve a spiritual plane by dancing fast Kathak?????" Even my idol Kanak Rele and hereditary artiste Harikrishna Kalyanasundaram seemed out of place in a lopsided panel. Still, I was amazed and in admiration of how many young dancers and many with walking sticks, patiently attended so many sessions. Kudos for stamina and persistence! I simply cannot watch more than 2 shows a day. Mind and eyes get glassy!
In the evenings, I heard Malavika was stunning. Priyadarsini disappointing, Valli not her usual incandescent self but understandable with her returning after a life threatening illness. Bijayini dedicated her beautiful and frighteningly perfect performance to the student uprising against the CAA and received a thunderous applause from the Academy audience, but not without many elders expressing shock and horror about "politicising the Academy environment!" Rama seemed to run out of ideas on Lord Muruga to whom she dedicated an entire evening. Praveen Kumar continued to impress and Vaibhav Arekar's ensemble work on Maratha king Shivaji was history made artistically watchable. Overheard in the foyer was an American Rasika stating that this was "a blatant SAFFRONISATION of dance" while another elderly Maami retorted "What do you know of the trauma my ancestors faced with the cruelty of the invaders?"
In the morning slots, Shweta Prachande looked tired and over rehearsed. Dakshina Vaidyanathan danced all over the stage, squatted, rose and spun endlessly to applause. Apoorva Jayaraman who does not have the stage presence of her contemporaries, nevertheless marked her thoughtful approach to dance and walked away with the best dancer award in her time slot.
MAATE, the varnam by Muthaiah Bhagavatar was the chosen piece for the season. 5 dancers chose this same composition. It needs to be put in cold storage for a few years. Manmada shooting his arrows onto every part of the body will also have to be banished to Siberia where his bow can freeze and crack while his flower arrows wither! Uffff! What a boring analogy for today's young women! Anyone announcing the meaning of a TAMIZH varnam or song in Chennai should be penalised. The English most often sounds stilted and boring.
The Music Academy award in the 3 categories - Junior, Sub Junior and Senior solos - are judged by independent anonymous judges under various parameters. Then the results are tabulated by BITS PILANI, a renowned Engineering Institute. It is then that the names are announced. I may not agree with the choices but then dance is a very subjective experience. One sitting next to me may have a totally different opinion. However, the idea of a BEST DANCER is questionable. We are not in sports where there is a clear winner and loser. The arts and especially dance is for all of us... WINNERS.
#TA KI TA TOM
I will refuse to stand for the STANDING OVATIONS that have become somewhat of a "de rigeur" at most performances. Cleverly planted cheerleaders rise on cue at the end of many dances and clap mindlessly. They also clap at the end of SWARAMS, ARUDIS, and whatever else! Where is the discernment? If that is what is the rule these days, then I did not get the note. I am not being cussed or ill mannered. It is just that a standing ovation is for something extra ordinary. Not a mechanical hydraulics motion. Jumping like a jack rabbit or whirling like a dervish will not do it.
Can I also say that I don't see the point in all these hashtags #TENDAYCHALLENGE, #NATYAMHEALS and others that only serve as excuses to post one's own face on social media every day. I don't know what it actually accomplishes. How much time do you dancers have to keep on doing this?
Madhu Nataraj has led her Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography into the university system.
She has been invited by JAIN UNIVERSITY Bengaluru to integrate her carefully drafted curricula into their SKILL DIPLOMA COURSES. Kathak, in three sections, Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced and the acclaimed CHOREOGRAPHY course will now be offered as a Diploma. It is welcome news for all those students who desire that piece of paper at the end of their study.
Chinmaya Naada Bindu celebrates its 10th anniversary with a bouquet of special programmes. Helmed by Ramaa Bharadvaj, this oasis near Pune, has been quietly educating and illuminating many a life.
Prime Minister Modi spoke of commitment, citing cricket bowler Anil Kumble who bowled with a fractured jaw. He did not know about Kavya Muralidharan, the super talented dancer who performed for her father's "jaw breaking" (no pun intended!) jathis and chollus last month. Involved in a car accident, Kavya had her wires removed for the day of the performance and then replaced them immediately after to honour the commitment. Now that is dedication. Except that none of Madurai Muralidharan's mathematical calculations are dance-able. His students were standing for the complex jumble and were only able to execute the most simple and mundane adavus. So what is this bold and brave composer trying to say if the dancing body cannot respond like a supersonic Ferrari???
I cheered as Manasvini Ramachandran cracked the whip on her unrehearsed orchestra (mridangam and nattuvangam) while on stage and unable to utter or follow her arudis and jathis. She stopped and got them to play it again. Until they got it right. Shame on these arrogant musicians who don't attend rehearsals for emerging dancers but who run like school boys when the divas call.
Dancers are running out of ideas. Now we have an entire production about - guess what? - the VULVA... Hmmm... where will it start and where will it end? What next? GROIN? BOOBS? BUTT???
Kalakshetra has cancelled the book event of TM Krishna. His new volume titled SEBASTIAN and SONS - A HISTORY OF MRIDANGAM MAKERS is said to contain some provocative and political statements about cow, caste and music. These have not gone down well with the Foundation that is supported as a National Institution of Culture and Heritage by the Government. Director Revathi Ramachandran has shown spine in taking the bold decision. The flip side is that we are reminded that the percussion instrument, that is an indispensable part of the classical music and dance world, has been created for generations by members belonging to economically challenged castes. This is also MERA INDIA.
Mitul Sengupta and Ronnie Shambik Ghose unveil a premiere of a new collaborative work in Leeds and London. They are the first artistes from India to work with Phoenix Dance Theatre. BLACK WATERS resonates with the shameful histories of two incidents. The Zong massacre in the Caribbean and the shameful KALA PANI incarceration in the Andaman Islands.
This 20 year old DANCE DAUGHTER is getting yet another award. I am proud to announce that NARTHAKI is getting yet another honour. Thank you, Ramaa Bharadvaj, for marking "her" presence in the lives of thousands of dancers and for encouraging this now "almost adult" onwards!
#BODY BODY ONLY BODY
BODY CONDITIONING is the new dance class. Led by Bijayini Satpathy's robot-like perfection, dancers are thronging to learn her superb body fitness without even considering that her lifestyle puts DANCE FIRST. That she jogs several kilometres daily and eats very, very healthy food. Bijayini's daily Instagram updates find her jumping, twirling and bending - all to a degree that makes me wonder if she can ever stand straight and do ABHINAYA, without the Tribhanga or the acute bending. But that is also what Aditi Mangaldas has done. Overcome an unexpressive face with whirls and turns at every nano second. Aditi also trains like a maniac and puts her ensemble through stamina building fitness sessions.
Personally, I liked what I saw of Leela Samson's dance intensive sessions at Indira Kadambi's AMBALAM academy. Her break down of the sliding adavu in the diagonal line was very clear and convincing. It encouraged each dancer to think about the process and path of the movement and execute it as per their body. I realised, however, that it is the precision of ballet and the continuous rehearsals of western dance modules that has changed the way Nrityagram dancers and Aditi perform. Their international tours are created for the export market. For the European eye, the relaxed and spontaneous nature of Indian dance is NOT a preference.
Certain diva mentors are asking their mentees to rehearse a single piece 100 times!!! I completely disagree. The Indian dance system does not need that kind of mechanical pursuit. The body has to be in prime condition. Agreed. The mind has to be clear to execute and express. Agreed. But the SPIRIT must be ready and fresh. Ready to explore each time, a new moment, a fresh pause, an IN THE MOMENT rush of inspiration. That is what makes our dance and music traditions so special and precious. But, for that, our young ones have to LEARN MUSIC! Or is that a PHOREN CONCEPT?????
Tennis star Novak Djokovic spoke to the New York Times about constantly searching. He hired an analytics expert who would dissect each and every stroke of his and that of his opponents. Then he would be presented with an average of how many forehands, backhands, slices, volleys, aces, smashes, cross court and down the line strokes he made. Djokovic just fired him. He wants to continue looking for something new that will keep his love and motivation for tennis strong.
I am not saying that we have to analyse each and every show of ours on video only to see how high we have jumped or how fast we have spun or how low we have been seated in araimandi. We have to find a new motivation often to keep an oft performed piece fresh. This obsession with line and perfection has made all the various Bharatanatyam styles look like one. Where is the difference? Where is the variety?
That is why I welcome the aesthetics of Aniruddha Knight, Swarnamalya and others who are not bitten by the JACK IN THE BOX virus. If only they can be programmed in the same festival roster as the rest of the robotic Rajas and Ranis, we can actually see how many ways Bharatanatyam has flowered. Anyone listening?
#ANDAL and SITA
I honestly feel that both women - ANDAL and SITA - WANT TO BE PRESENT DURING THESE TIMES. As do so many other women. Actor Mita Vasisht speaks of her 12 year journey with the Kashmiri mystic poet Lal Ded. These amazing women were all DISAPPEARED. Never allowed to grow old and share their wisdom. We say "they merged", "they were absorbed", "they evaporated in a whiff of jasmine". What does that mean? Were they killed, silenced? We will never know... But we DO know that all these mystic women saints and legends were hugely problematic in a patriarchal world and retelling their stories is a gift and a privilege!
With Sanjukta Wagh and Mallika Sarabhai
Days after the Ahmedabad performance of A MILLION SITAS, Mallika and I shared a frank and flowing conversation in Mumbai. Facilitated by Sanjukta Wagh for BEEJ GARAGE, we realised that we have been dance adventurers for 45 years. Our parallel journeys as discussed over an hour revealed that our paths have been somewhat different but with so many commonalities. Our strong and visionary parents for a start. As I join Mallika in Australia this month for more discussions, it will be an opportunity to discover our bonds and work on strengthening them.
#ARANGHAM LEARNING LABS 2nd EDITION
Before I close I am delighted to announce the SECOND EDITION of ARANGHAM LEARNING LABS.
Following on the heels of the very successful first edition in September 2019, we announce the next dance artiste from Melbourne. After the exhilarating COUNTER TECHNIQUE practice by Niharika Senapati, we now announce BUTOH by YUMI YUMIUMARE. I am particularly excited about her visit since I have been an ardent admirer and lifelong watcher of this singular Japanese form of political/resistance performance art. This 6 day session with YUMI will be open to dancers and physical theatre practitioners.
Curated in collaboration with Nithya Nagarajan in Sydney, this is a capacity building endeavour and is an important addition to the performance and product obsessed landscape Indian dance scene.
The week long workshop is FREE to the selected artistes. Only 10 places are available and details can be seen here and on our other social media platforms. Dates are from September 13 to 20, 2020. Application deadline is April 30th.
An 8 hour work day, discussing the principles of BUTOH and what "seeds" movement impulse, active mediation as movement catalyst are just some of the methods that will be employed. This stunning offer is only for those dancers who are looking to enhance and deepen their existing practice or to those mid and senior level performers who are seeking a breakthrough or new direction in their work and approach to making dance work.
Spring is in the air. Yellow is the colour of a new dawn and joy. Sivaratri, the auspicious night of great energy, when the earth's magnetic force is strong and multiple energies rise is also in February. Dancers head towards temples to showcase their art against magnificent citadels of history and hope.
It is a wonderful time to be a dancer, an actor, a singer, a performer. To live a life in the LIVE ARTS is a gift. Use it well. Speak clearly. Make careful choices. GLOW!
Until next time...
Dr Anita R Ratnam
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in
Thanks for the review. None of them are my students except my daughter Kavya Muralidaran. We have announced very clearly on the day of the performance in your presence. Anyway, they tried their level best to handle the Jathis
- Madurai R Muralidaran
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