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January 2023

Celebrate endings - for they precede new beginnings - Jonathan Lockwood Huie
Cheers to the new year and another chance to get it right - Oprah Winfrey
Don't live the same year each time and call it a life - Robin Sharma
Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one - Brad Paisley.

Anita Ratnam

I have chosen the word FURIOUS.

Because that is the pace and velocity with which we have lived this past year. Devouring anything and everything in our path - food, travel, clothes, art, recreation, vacation, celebration, work - everything had a quality of happening at a FURIOUS pace. It was as if we were not going to see, experience or live through the next moment. It was a voracious whirl.

And December brought it all to a pinnacle. Like the heart of a tornado, where the centre is quiet but deadly. Like the promise of yet another twisted version of the virus. But this time, we are ready. Or not. Two years of isolation brought the Christmas month to a fever pitch of performances, festivals, celebration and bonhomie across the world. Just seeing the crowds at the auditoriums, faces familiar and new and everyone with a mixture of relief and joy in their eyes was enough to reassure me that even GRATITUDE must be cultivated with FURIOUS determination.

Having been in the thick of so many (too many) events in December, I missed so much of what was happening around me. Chennai may be the epicentre of a mammoth music and dance festival but many other cities were also celebrating with equal aplomb.


#NKC @ 40
Saashwathi Prabhu & Rama Vaidyanathan
Saashwathi Prabhu & Rama Vaidyanathan

The landmark edition of India's only annual dance conference was a dazzling success. On opening day, the curtain lifted with 18 convenors seated to a delighted audience of over 400 rapturous faces. Convenor Rama Vaidyanathan pulled off a yearlong endeavour with 5 days of packed crowds, a range of presentations and performances - many so thought provoking that made veteran critic Leela Venkataraman say, "I still have so much to learn!"

With my own schedule being so demanding, I was not able to attend many of the sessions and so I asked Ramaa Bharadvaj to pick her favourite talks from NKC - Natya Kala Conference 2022.

Natya Kala Conference 2022 rating

I will have to add that Ramaa's own session titled 'Movements and Meanings' on opening day was the talk of the canteen crowds and so it also makes it to the list of the top picks. As well as V R Devika's Folk presentation of versions of THE MAHABHARATA using the dynamic bodies of THERUKOOTHU artistes. To listen to performer TILAKA speak at the end of the travails of every woman who has to collide with family, spouse and prejudice in order to continue her practice was an eye opener for the audience and reminded every single person of their privilege.

With TEAM ALAAP having promoted the daylights out of the event in every way possible - with tangible impact - it is almost predicted that Krishna Gana Sabha will extend the applause to one more year with the same team in charge.

With ROOTS being the theme, there was the added excitement of fashion and dressing according to regions of India over the 5 days - weaves and drapes as suggested by designer Sandhya Raman. A riot of colour and fashion were on full display every day, with dancers trying to outdo one another.

I watched the contingents arrive from several Indian cities and overseas. Rama Vaidyanathan's consistent outreach through performances and workshops has given her a global appeal and the love and admiration she commands with her students and fans was palpable and heartwarming.

Title sponsor Rajika Puri was present and stated that she was delighted to support such an important event. It was also the very first time that the Tamilnadu Government has lent financial support to a sabha. A good omen indeed!


#SPEAKING THEIR TRUTH
Roja Kannan
Roja Kannan
Palani Murugan
Palani Murugan

I do not want to forget the very interesting sessions at the earlier NATYA DARSHAN conference convened by Roja Kannan. Although there was not much space for interaction, the variety of folk performers she had curated made for several interesting moments. The contemporary retelling of the KALYANA SAUGANDHIKAM (an incident featuring Bhima and Hanuman) by an OTTANTHULLAL artiste from Kerala Kalamandalam had the audience in splits. The Purusai THERUKOOTHU artistes displayed their brilliance led by the traditional family of national award winning artistes.

Ottanthullal
Ottanthullal
Therukoothu
Therukoothu

In programming hereditary dancers and giving them the space and time to speak and share their talent was also a wise decision. Their history must be told in their voices and it is important that we lean in and listen.

In another session, not related to her conference, Roja's two students performed a traditional varnam under the mentorship of Lakshmi Viswanathan. According to reports, it was a stellar presentation, complete with vintage looking costuming under Lakshmi's expert eye.


#DREAMING OF DANCE
Malavika Sarukkai
Malavika Sarukkai
Mavin Khoo
Mavin Khoo

The annual DANCE FOR DANCE festival, curated and produced by Malavika Sarukkai was another successful event in the overcrowded Margazhi schedule. Managed by Shreya Nagaraj Singh of SNS Arts Consultancy, this 3 day event featured an exciting range of dancers to packed ticket buying crowds. I was fortunate to collaborate with Aniruddha Knight on opening day and got (literally) a ring side seat to his artistry and creative process. Aniruddha also presented his students at the Natya Kala Conference to assert his view that the style is not a blast from the past, simply resting on history and nostalgia, but alive and relevant today. In the sea of perfect lines, obsessive physicality and athletic bodies whirling in the air, Aniruddha brought to the fore the powerful braiding of music and imagination in his performance.

Anita Ratnam with Aniruddha Knight
With Aniruddha Knight

Again, I was not able to witness more than Day One of the festival and so missed some very important performances. Mavin Khoo stunned many in the packed hall with his trance like immersion into the Murugan myths entwined with personal diary. Karuna Sagari continues to impress with her quiet assurance and K Sarvesan from South Africa delivered a stellar performance.


#THE OLD IS NEW
Aniruddha Knight
Aniruddha Knight
Charumathi
Charumathi

The December season also saw several hereditary performers make their mark. Charumathi Chandrasekaran, granddaughter of Guru Kittappa Pillai, Nritya Pillai, granddaughter of Guru Rajaratnam Pillai, Niveda from the lineage of Sivanandan Pillai and Aniruddha Knight, grandson of Balasaraswati. The variety of aesthetics that I have been arguing in favour of is finally beginning to see the light of day. I just hope that we get to see these artistes in longer format performances in the coming months.

I notice the rising interest in dance history and academic lectures and the warm response these presentations are receiving. It augurs well for dancers to look beyond their repertoire and the current SELFIE/STORY/REELS virus and broaden their dance world views!


# FORBIDDEN TO WHOM?
Aditi Mangaldas in FORBIDDEN
Aditi Mangaldas in FORBIDDEN
Photo Credit: Von Fox Promotions, UK, 2022

I missed watching Aditi Mangaldas' new solo magnum opus FORBIDDEN - based on female sexual desire as expressed by women in India and beyond. The magnificently visual production had all the markings of being a "perfect export product." With almost every name being from outside India - dramaturgy, music, lighting, mentoring, costume (Sandhya Raman created the costume from a UK designer's sketch and was not credited in the official credits roster) - Aditi has raised the bar for Kathak presentations and has established (along with Malavika Sarukkai) as to what a soloist in her sixties can accomplish. She is one of the most hard working dance artistes I know but it is the economic model I am questioning here, not the quality or integrity of her work. 7 days of the NCPA JBT theatre for tech and rehearsals, several lakhs spent on international air fares and hotel accommodations for her collaborators from overseas and the final product which must have cost near 1 crore rupees at the end seems excessive for the current dance economy in India. FORBIDDEN is a commissioned solo by the prestigious SADLERS WELLS theatre in the UK and Aditi's connection with Akram Khan and his former manager Farook Choudhry has been nurtured over the past 20 years.

FORBIDDEN has received brilliant praise from well-known critics like Shanta Gokhale but left Mumbai audiences mostly cold. Perhaps after two years of COVID, returning rasikas want to be deeply moved in some way, other than what Aditi intended through her work. I also return to her earlier furore of returning the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for contemporary dance, stating that her work is "KATHAK". Yet she describes FORBIDDEN as "contemporary dance based on Kathak". So what does that actually mean? Watching her is seeing a Kathak trained body executing movements and embracing kinetics that is well outside the classical format. Aditi should have gracefully accepted the award and continued with her superb work.

As I wait to watch the critically acclaimed FORBIDDEN at the next opportunity, I must salute Malavika Sarukkai for thinking about dance ecology and creating the DANCE FOR DANCE festival which presents excellent classical dance. Although Malavika's new solo ANUBANDHA is also demanding - both for herself and for the resources it demands - it does not demand the bloated economics that ADITI has created for herself.


#MY OWN DECEMBER SPIRALS
KAISIKA NATAKAMKAISIKA NATAKAMKAISIKA NATAKAM
KAISIKA NATAKAMKAISIKA NATAKAMKAISIKA NATAKAMKAISIKA NATAKAM
Kaisika Natakam

It began on December 4 and continued nonstop until the very last day of the month. I was in Tirukurungudi for the annual festival of KAISIKA NATAKAM at the Azhagiya Nambi temple. This was the 24th revival enactment and the crowds surged to capacity after two years of holding the event with only a handful of onlookers. 2023 will mark the silver jubilee of this event and I anticipate a very special edition with more than one performance that dancers and historians should witness and experience.

Naachiyar Next
Naachiyar Next
Naachiyar Next
Naachiyar Next
Naachiyar Next

Immediately after a rural experience, our team flew to Mumbai and Goa for an updated edition of NAACHIYAR NEXT. I returned to this beloved and acclaimed presentation after two years of COVID because I too needed to feel nurtured and re-centred. ANDAL brings me firmly into the present and her passionate voice moved so many audiences in both cities. Hoots, whistles and standing ovations greeted us in both venues and my team was visibly moved. SERENDIPITY is a marvellous festival and dance curator Geeta Chandran selected a small clutch of performances that would communicate beyond language and geographical specificity.

Anita Ratnam as As Captain Lakshmi Sehgal
As Captain Lakshmi Sehgal

We returned to two more shows in the Chennai season to rapturous response. I attended the Natya Kala Conference (barely!) with a single presentation (very forgettable, believe me!) and then flew to the bitter winter climes of Delhi to participate in the Delhi International Arts Festival. I reprised my role as the fighter/solider CAPTAIN LAKSHMI SEHGAL in Prathibha Prahlad's ambitious production WARRIOR WOMEN OF BHARAT. Dancing in the open air with my socks (I played a soldier, right?) in 10 degree weather was a challenge. My colleagues were all barefoot and their feet felt the strain.

Still, the two performances were greeted with a host of government officials and a large crowd that stayed through the unforgiving weather to cheer the folk dancers who were performing daily from 3pm. DIAF is a mega event that curator and artistic director Prathibha Prahlad has pulled off under great duress.
News is that the government may continue to put a stage on Kartavya Path on a regular basis to encourage the folk arts and to draw citizens and visitors to the capital's newly renamed and re-designed Central Vista area.

Anita Ratnam as As Kaa
As Kaa

Recapping my own year with so many memorable moments including KAA in THE JUNGLE BOOK is a moment for me to send my immense gratitude to everyone who has supported me and the universe for filling me with energy and zest in my sixties!

Among the many questions that loomed in my mind was how easily dancers were filming all the shows and presentations on their phones. With no thought of copyright issues and infringement of intellectual ownership. Every second phone was being held up and I bet that many choreographic ideas will be copied very soon. How does one police this sort of indiscipline? Even if announcements are made, nobody pays attention. Try this at any other mainstream event outside India and you will be shooed out of the auditorium by the audience members. It is a very disappointing practice that the best of choreographers and artistic directors continue to do. 

The last show of 2022 I watched was Geeta Chandran's evocative Bharatanatyam solo MY RAINBOW IS BLUE. Listening to her excellent musical ensemble filled me with gratitude. Just being able to watch wonderful dancing and soul lifting music in my hometown that has nurtured so many brilliant creative minds is a huge gift. To be a dancer itself is a blessing in today's world. And to recognise that my voice and presence is valued in the dance world is a gift that I acknowledge with a smiling heart.

So here's thanking my entire NARTHAKI team. Lalitha Venkat (now on working holiday with her family in Seattle), Sumathi - our relentless and dedicated web Goddess, Raksha Patel - our communications manager and L Subhasri- the all-round SARVA VYAPI- THANK YOU for the continued team work.
NARTHAKI Online enters its 23rd year in April and there are changes afoot.

So let us glide into the new year with FURIOUS hope in our hearts. No matter what clouds loom ahead, remember we have braved the worst of times. We have lost so many loved ones - family and art - and have continued to soldier on. May we find moments of joy and hope in our hearts and the space to realise that we are passing through and the soil we stand on and the art we contain will flow onů

Happy 2023!

- Anita R Ratnam
Chennai / Auroville / Bengaluru


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


Responses
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Dear Anitaji, your post at the start of every month (and in this particular case, a new year) serves as a reminder on how we should approach dance and art in general. Your articulation is beyond compare, and forces us to engage in important conversations. Most importantly, in this age of 15s videos, it's very refreshing to have something this engaging to read, about Indian dance!
- Sumana (Jan 2, 2023)


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Thank you, Anita, for this vivid whiff of this furious season of dance and music. Having missed it, your evocation is valued.
- Uttara Asha Coorlawala (Jan 1, 2023)


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