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July 1, 2011

All around India, spaces are emerging…small, unpretentious… some larger with beautiful landscaping… but all for performing artistes. Not just to show work but to incubate ideas, nurture visions and to coax an image or a phrase into a fleshed out performance of dance and theatre.  Veenapani Chawla’s ADISHAKTI in Auroville, Tamilnadu, is one of the most welcoming and embracing spaces that has become a crucible for many ideas and energies. OP Jain’s SANSKRITI complex in the outskirts of New Delhi was among the earliest to recognize the need for a quiet retreat for artistes. Now, award winning theatre actor Atul Kumar of THE COMPANY THEATRE, Mumbai, has labored to complete his dream project near Lonavla, Maharashtra, for the last 7 years.
In the past, major business houses like the Tatas and the Shriram Groups built large auditoriums but did not envision parallel preparation areas like rehearsal studios, shower stalls and onsite affordable accommodation for visiting artistes. Today, the best cultural complexes in India fail to address these vital issues.  Most importantly is the reality that art does NOT emerge out of thin air but needs time to mature and ripen.  Quiet or inspiring spaces are vital for serious artistes who find an individual timeline for creating and showing their art.

Having just returned from Iowa City, USA, a Unesco World Heritage city for Literature, where the annual summer Writer’s Retreat occurs, I can honestly say that it was a dream time for me to walk among writers and thinkers along the cobbled cultural square, to sip coffee and converse with the local storeowners and to sit in the pub where Kurt Vonnegut once swallowed large pints of beer. The walls of those places vibrate with great writers and the entire atmosphere, set amidst the campus of Iowa University is a dream space for creativity. Among the many courses offered is one quixotic weekend workshop titled WORD YOGA. The choice and use of a single word that can mean so much!

As time passes, so do our valuable artistes. The most recent was the passing of Sathyalingam, musician and composer and an alumni of Kalakshetra. A staunch purist at heart and someone who was unafraid to speak his mind, especially about the new trends in dance and music, Sathy was a dear friend and someone close to my family for decades. His wife, award winning guru Neila Sathyalingam of Apsaras Arts in Singapore, was my teacher in Kalakshetra and was perhaps the single reason I could complete my course there amidst the formidable and unflinching rigour of Sarada Hoffman and Rukmini Devi herself.  Our condolences to the Sathyalingam family on their loss.

The annual flood of Rabindranath Tagore based performances continue, most uninspiring at the moment. Cobbling together poems or songs and performing them to a particular classical dance style does not illuminate Gurudev’s vision of a humane society. The “gait” of Bengali and Rabindra Sangeet does not gel with the architectural kinetics of Bharatanatyam and so a more creative and thoughtful response to his words, ideas and music are called for. The year long celebrations conclude next May in New Delhi.

Gone are the days when Indian dance festivals around the world mandated artistes from India alone. Today, with the maturity of the NRI groups, many companies are touring Europe and the Far East from the USA and UK. Less visa problems for the organizers, travel grants from local arts councils, physically more demanding choreography, lighting plans in place and artistes who are more savvy with technology and the internet to respond quickly with the necessary information for festivals and major events make a strong case for non India based dancers being featured on the festival calendar in Europe and elsewhere. A strong case should be made for agency representation for India based dancers, especially for lecture demonstrations on university and museum circuits.

Back to work, everyone. Time to get back to approaching deadlines and all the various elements that go into the making of new work or the revisiting of an older one (That is actually a memo to myself as well).

A big cheer to all artistes who live, dream, create and persist in these most challenging of times.
Dr Anita R Ratnam
Chennai / Kolkata / Capetown-SA

Twitter: @aratnam
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Blog: THE A LIST /

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