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July 2021

A meeting of two, eye to eye, face to face
And when you are near I will tear your eyes out
And place them instead of mine,
And you will tear my eyes out
And place them instead of yours,
Then I will look at me with mine

- Jacob L Moreno, American psychiatrist and founder of psychodrama

And so 6 months pass by
With the monotony and sameness of clouds, a sleepy moth, a sluggish snail.
Hours, days and weeks pass by...
Those with routines have a semblance of order.
For most. It is a big never ending muddle.
And the eternal wait... for what?

Another lockdown? The THIRD WAVE? Opening up. Fear. Confusion. To go out or not? Heightened melodrama. Disturbed sleep. Curious dreams.

There have been so many small spurts of initiatives, premieres - the joyful shout of glee as dancers step onto stages in many cities across the world. Their sigh of gratitude for having people watching them live instead of trapped inside ZOOM squares.

Already cultural organisations are attempting to ask themselves and their members about
HOW DO WE RECOVER OUR BALANCE?
WHAT WILL THE TERRAIN LOOK LIKE WHEN WE STEP OUTSIDE?

DIGITAL EQUITY IN A POST PANDEMIC WORLD is being questioned and debated on several forums.

Has the pandemic made us stronger or more fragile? Many psychologists believe that there are lessons to be learned from this strange isolation. Incarcerated perhaps, but not imprisoned. There has been much learning, much sharing, much outreach and much growth - for those who allowed new avenues to be explored.

According to Will Gompertz, author of THINK LIKE AN ARTIST, the "NEW" element in really big ideas comes in the form of a disruption. "There is no such thing as a wholly original idea but there is such a thing as unique combinations."

Over the past 15 months, I have become accustomed to this cloistered existence of ONE. Dressing up from above my waist... tucking my saris into my salwars or jogger pants, sitting down and "performing" for the camera. In show after show on diverse topics I try to engage my distracted mind in an attempt to coalesce all my interests focus on the guest and topic on hand.

It works. Often. But not entirely.

One part of my mind is turned towards my daughter, recovering from a nasty bout of Covid. Her daily healthcare unfolding before my eyes is a testament to how, even the young and healthy are not beyond the virus' reach. Another part of my mind is trying to protect myself.

So now to DANCE... and the world that is spinning around the feet and bodies of those who have committed to this fragile, powerful, embodied practice.

What's up everyone?

Teaching, learning, training, absorbing, listening, sharing, rehearsing, worrying, crying, doubting, stumbling, lurching... it all goes on every day.

Yet we continue...


#PRIDE EVERY DAY
June was PRIDE MONTH and what a month it has been! Not since 1968 when the PRIDE movement began with the incident at STONEWALL INN in New York City, have I noticed such an upsurge of non binary voices online. Perhaps the pandemic and the visually arresting images of the LGBTQIA+ world wearing daring make up, wigs, costume and speaking out about abuse, prejudice, is eye catching. I have always been an ally of the community and its many avatars. Social media and online entertainment platforms have consciously included gender, diversity, trans characters into their scripts. POSE and THE L WORD are just two examples of mainstreaming what the largely heterosexual world considered "marginal".


Audrey Malek and Courtney Taylor Key
Photo: Yael Malka

#QUEERTHEBALLET is a hashtag that was a clarion call to non binary dancers who felt constricted by the male/gay dancers and the strict gender norms of the ballet world. One of the responses has been a same sex duet choreographed by gender queer former ballerina Adriana Pierce on two black lesbian dancers - Audrey Malek and Courtney Taylor Key - in JULIET AND JULIET. Now, Shakespeare has long been a favourite for gender play since he wrote so many interesting characters with fluid identities. Playing with other texts and ancient narratives is happening in US universities with even the hallowed Ramayana being imagined through the lens of inclusivity and identity assertion.

In my Instagram Live conversations about diversity and gender, I have met and listened to a variety of creative voices from India and South Asia. I will continue these talks as long as possible, certainly well beyond June. Interestingly, after each of my PRIDE talks, there is a significant movement in my Instagram followers. I lose some and gain more. Hmmm. Maybe closed minds need to leave. Or perhaps the strange algorithms of Instagram are at work, stifling all kinds of conversations about diversity!

I will now discuss one article that made me realise how trivialised classical and contemporary dance has become for media. Cinema and its lens have infiltrated the viewing optic of writers who are commenting on dance and dance artistes with no background except to grab a headline.


#DEVALUING DANCE - LAZY WRITING

Rukmini Vijayakumar

Malavika Sarukkai

Featured in THE WEEK, a Kerala based national magazine, this article was an eye opener. Or rather like a sock in my eye.
Written by Sneha Bhura, the title of the article reads CHOREOGRAPHER RUKMINI VIJAYAKUMAR IS MAKING BHARATANATYAM ACCESSIBLE TO ALL.

There lies the initial stumble. Why should such a complex and sophisticated form like Bharatanatyam become like a road side PAU BHAJI? I love the Mumbai snack but it tastes best when enjoyed in its natural habitat. The street. Every art has its own cultural geography and history.

The writer goes on to extol Rukmini's underwater adventures in the Maldives and her unstoppable PR presence on social media in a variety of costumes. Rukmini is a very hard working dancer with amazing physicality and a form that the camera loves. Her personal style developed over years of cross training, focuses almost entirely on an erect spine that does remains ram rod straight as her body executes mind bending moves. This, in my opinion, is RUKMINI NATYAM. Not Bharatanatyam.

The writer states that "Rukmini is unafraid to project the oldest classical dance tradition like an artfully arranged latte!" The article continues to state that "Rukmini is offering a breezy access to the hallowed corridors of Bharatanatyam." She quotes Rukmini who uses words like "spiritual" and picking up movements "like how to hit a tennis ball".

The writer is oblivious to the thousands of teachers and gurus, not to mention students and scholars who have striven for decades to share and watch this magnificent form percolate across generations. And then, Bharatanatyam, and its post independence avatar, has come in for severe criticism from the academic quarters who claim that the art was appropriated from the hereditary communities of artistic practitioners. Between the historians, scholars, teachers, practitioners and modernists, Bharatanatyam carries the imprint of complexity and an unresolved history. It cannot be reduced to mermaid moves, pursed lips and knee twirls. NATYA LATTE ANYONE?

To be ignorant of basic facts and latching onto a headline grabbing title is lazy and irresponsible. Projecting one dancer as a messiah who is decoding the supposed "impenetrable and inscrutable complexity of Bharatanatyam" is beyond irritating. And to think that the Arts editors encourage this sort of marquee grabbing writing is even more disappointing.

On the very same day, Malavika Sarukkai forwarded me an article that she had written for the online magazine THE WIRE. In it, Malavika carried an impassioned plea to all classical dancers to renew, rethink and revisit their chosen styles. The article was titled TO HELP US SURVIVE THIS AGONY, CLASSICAL ARTS MUST BE AUTHENTIC NOT TOKENISTIC. For those of us who have known and followed Malavika's career over nearly 5 decades, the tone was truly hers. This brilliant artiste is deeply invested in the possibilities of her art and is working towards a new solo which she promises will be totally different from anything she has ever done before. Working through the past 15 months on her body and mind with rigorous practice at her Chennai home, Mala represents a singular Lode Star of total surrender to her Bharatanatyam.

What a contrast between the two artistes. Rukmini and Malavika!
A clash of generations? Twenty years apart and galaxies away in approach, intention and purpose?

Malavika's writing was like a note to herself - earnest and emotional. The other article was a vacuous space-filler lacking any sort of understanding of the field.
One artiste is notoriously social media shy while the other a tigress of Instagram, devouring fans and eyeballs.

Dance teachers will encourage their students to watch Malavika's performances for that one moment of immanence that she strives for. Each time she sets foot on stage, one can see a palpable and pulsating mind at work. And while body fitness, alignment and physical dexterity is part of every Bharatanatyam practice, the form is certainly not all about leaps, stretches, lunges and pouting.

Read both articles here to compare.
Choreographer Rukmini Vijayakumar is making Bharatanatyam accessible to all
- Sneha Bhura

To help us survive this agony, classical arts must be authentic not tokenistic
- Malavika Sarukkai

The malaise of arts writing is deep rooted. THE HINDU, long known for its commitment to the arts, has also fallen short of its former standards. Loss of advertising revenue and pruning staff has meant that the ARTS COLUMN has become anorexic - devoid of vitality and originality. Perhaps there is no budget to attract young writers who will no longer do anything "for the love of it" like my generation did.


#WRITING DANCING

Prathibha Prahlad

Aranyani Bhargav

However, dancers are getting more involved in aspects other than mere practice and teaching online.

Prathibha Prahlad has written in defense of the new CENTRAL VISTA PROJECT in NEW DELHI that is going to create a new topography but raze many iconic buildings like the National Museum and the Sangeet Natak Akademi complex. How will the new design look with the Ahmedabad Sabarmati water front project an eyesore and the same architect being given this enormous project? There is a huge backlash from old Delhi-ites against the demolition so reading Prathibha's article brought another point of view.

Aranyani Bhargav writes about the increasing importance of cross training for today’s dancers. This intelligent and curious artiste must expand her reference points instead of harping on the examples of Chandralekha and Daksha Sheth. There have been so many radical movement theatre practitioners and creators - Veenapani Chawla, Neelam Mansingh, Maya Krishna Rao, Prasanna Ramaswamy, Gowri Ramnarayan, Amal and Nissar Allana, Na Muthuswamy ( Koothu P Pattarai) who insist on an articulate body that comes from cross training in not just Kalari, Yoga or Chhau. With dancers using their voices more and more, tone and pitch is also becoming a vital part of a dancer’s workbook.
I wish Astad Deboo had shared his training methods which aided him in such superb concentration and flexibility into his seventies. And the methodology of Padma Subrahmanyam’s KARANA training is something for every dancer and actor to learn.
As is Manjushri Chaki Sircar’s NAVA NRITYA and Tanusree Shankar’s pedagogy for her creative productions.
Dancers today are flocking to ADISHAKTI and guru G Venu’s NAVARASA SADHANA to imbibe older and more traditional theatre forms like Koodiyattam to augment their emotional range.

Yes, there was a time when dance gurus would disallow their students in enrolling in any kind of cross cultural activity, even theatre. I had to enroll my mother as an ally when I continued to play tennis every morning in addition to my evening dance classes with Guru Adyar K Lakshman. He was insistent that tennis would make me "masculine". Instead, sports gave me the objectivity and ability to take victory and defeat at an equal pace. Dance and the embodied arts carry the narcissistic gene embedded within its DNA.

Read Prathibha Prahlad and Aranyani Bhargav's articles here.
Central vista will become a culture mandala
- Prathibha Prahlad

Expanding the movement vocabulary
- Aranyani Bhargav

This past month, lots happened... just because I was not as attentive as I was before is also the fallout of digital fatigue. There is a greater commitment to serious long term learning that is developing in tandem with the temporary "frisson" of fleeting Instagram images. Society is beginning to grasp the future of WFH or a hybrid lifestyle where the digital and physical can coexist.

Here is a sliver of what was and is being planned in the global world of dance.


TA KI TA TOM


*HEMA RAJAGOPALAN has been chosen by See Chicago Dance for the annual LEGACY AWARD. Hema, a pioneer in the Mid West region of the USA, established NATYA DANCE THEATRE over 45 years ago and has since enriched her community by making a significant and sustained impact on dance in Chicago.

*RAMYA HARISHANKAR, founder of ARPANA DANCE COMPANY, California, has produced a digital series titled DANCE CONVERSATIONS: INDIAN DANCE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. Recorded over the course of 2020, the 10 episode production brings together a galaxy of colleagues, many of them students of Guru SK Rajaratnam. Influences and ideas that impacted the development of Bharatanatyam and Indian classical dance on America's west coast are traced, along with changing aesthetics, tastes and styles. With a presence of 40 years, Ramya has stamped her authority with consistent attention to teaching, performing and mentoring.

*SHREYA NAGARAJ SINGH of SNS ARTS CONSULTANCY partnered with a saree store to collect funds for folk artistes. The initiative titled FUNDS FOR FOLK auctioned 18 silk sarees from 18 dancers (me included). The total raised was almost 3 lakh rupees and the money will aid folk artistes from Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

*SAVITA SASTRY continues to make waves online. Her latest short film COLOURS: WHITE has bagged several prestigious awards at the World Film Carnival in Singapore. Best Short film, Best Film on Women. Best Performing Arts Film, Best Director, Best Actress. Written and directed by her husband AK Srikanth, this visually stunning film was shot at a historic home outside Chennai. Sets and lights by Victor Paulraj were among the highlights of the film. Savita's precise Bharatanatyam was the star of the film, whose incoherent script did not convey the tumult and discord that the dancer-protagonist sought to share.

*Apsaras Arts, Singapore has initiated IPAC - Indian Performing Arts Convention - a rebranding of the DANCE INDIA - ASIA PACIFIC annual conclave. DANCE INDIA was the idea of MILAPFEST in Liverpool, UK and Aravinth Kumaraswamy (Artistic Director, Apsaras Arts) began a 10 year collaboration with the model of student-senior guru immersive experience in Singapore.
Last year, Apsaras introduced classical music to great success and thus the name change and rebranding. In partnership with Monash University, near Melbourne, Australia, IPAC is offering both classical music and dance weekend immersions via virtual media with senior gurus and divas. A healthy registration with fees attached, good technical back up and attentive audiences are a harbinger for the future of inter generational learning in classical dance and music.

* MITUL SENGUPTA, Kathak dancer now based in Leeds, UK, premiered her first live show after 16 months of lockdown. Mitul was featured in our BOXED series in a stunning video behind an iron grill. Trained in classical Kathak and Jazz, Mitul's fluid body on stage after a long hiatus was resonant with bottled emotions, imprisoned imagination let loose on stage. A powerful performer, Mitul, along with husband and artistic partner Ronnie Shambik Ghose, head RHYTHMOSAIC, a classical and contemporary dance company in Kolkata.

*PANGEA WORLD THEATER, Minneapolis, has been chosen as one of the TEN CULTURAL JEWELS OF THE MID WEST. 25 years ago, I was fortunate to witness the early years of struggle that the Chennai couple Dipankar Mukherjee and Meena Natarajan underwent. Today, PANGEA stands for diversity, resistance, collaboration and art that are consistent with their politics.


*Ananda Shankar Jayant's NATYARAMBHA platform has announced another year long dance/music project. After the runaway success of KUTTI KAHANI, the new venture is called TAMRAPATRA, the songs and words of Annamacharya, the prolific Telugu composer of the 15th century CE. The author of almost 30,000 songs, composed mainly in praise of Tirupati Balaji Venkateswara, only 12,000 are available today. This research and workshop oriented project is inviting dancers outside the Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi genre to explore Annamacharya's exquisite poetry.

*RE-COGNISING DANCE restarted their digital presentations with the talk on PRE DEVADASI DANCE IN TAMIL COUNTRY by Dr S Palaniappan.

*MANCH UK presented EMERGE, a showcase of 6 premieres mentored by contemporary dancer Kamala Devan.

*NAVTEJ SINGH JOHAR is launching an 8 week module of learning titled THE BODY IN INDIAN MODERNITY.

*SRUTI Magazine has published an e-book on Rukmini Devi for download.

* Sandra Chatterjee in Germany has announced another edition of lectures titled MOVING INTERVENTIONS. In it, several lectures and demonstrations that harken to the areas of FORGOTTEN DANCER/FORGOTTEN ARCHIVES are being featured.

*RAMLI IBRAHIM's scheduled talk at the University of Malaysia was cancelled abruptly by the committee citing "fear of offending some people". The international award winning dance icon was to speak about the value of diversity in education. This incident has since snowballed into a series of national media articles and debates about the dumbing down of Malaysia's education system.

*USHA RAGHAVAN's Kalasagara UK, in association with Paallam Arts presented UNITE FOR INDIA - Dance Marathon on June 12/13 for 30+ hours and raised £11392 (Rs.11,77,930) to provide Covid relief resources for people in India.

*Los Angeles based performing siblings ADITYA and MYTHILI PRAKASH launched their own fund raising initiative for India's Covid relief. Over 5 weekends the duo was offering original dance and musical content for a donation of $100.

*Dancer NARTHAKI NATARAJ has been appointed as member of Tamil Nadu Planning Commission by Chief Minister Stalin on June 6, 2021.

*Dance Magazine's power list of '30 OVER 30' who've had incredible breakthroughs, or come into their own in new chapters of their careers after age 29 includes Odissi dancer BIJAYINI SATPATHY, who says she feels empowered since setting out as a soloist and choreographer at the age of 45.

*An International festival of dance films BODY AND LENS, inclusive of a seminar projecting the varied perspectives of cinema with relation to all type of dance forms will be held online by Kolkata based Sastrika on 17th and 18th July. The festival is organised by dancer/choreographer KOUSHIK PODDER.

*The DR. SUNIL KOTHARI AWARD FOR THE EMERGING ARTIST with a cash prize of Rs.11,000 instituted by Drishtikon goes to the young and talented dancer Gaurav Bhatti (for Hemant, a part of the project Khidki Se...Seasons from my window), a member of Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company - The Drishtikon Dance Foundation.

*Hindus led by RAJAN ZED, are urging renowned Teatro alla Scala (La Scala) in Milan (Italy) to withdraw 'LA BAYADÈRE' from its upcoming 2021-22 season, which they feel seriously trivializes Eastern religious and other traditions. Tickets are priced up to 150€.

The most exciting new social media platform is CLUBHOUSE. An audio chat app, it is becoming a venue for the most trivial and most thoughtful sessions. No dress up, no visual appearance, just talk. I am on it for the past month and have created a club called CHUTNEY MAMI - On life's delicious mash ups. We have hosted talks on sarees, yoga, music, food, wellness - and yes - dance. Just some of my many, many loves.
Audio is returning to our lives in a big way. I have just bought CARAVAN and my room is filled with old classic Bollywood numbers that keeps my spirits up while my German Shepherd watches in curious "adbhuta!"

In closing, I would like to share a story about how adversaries can actually become allies.
In the late 1950's in New York City, theatre director Joe Papp approached New York City Mayor Robert Wagner Jr, to create an annual FREE SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL in Central Park. The Mayor flatly refused to allow a free event and Joe Papp stuck to his guns saying "CULTURE IS A BIRTHRIGHT FOR EVERY HUMAN BEING." After 6 months of tussle, the Mayor gave in and thus was born one of the shining lights of American Theatre.
SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK at the Delacorte theatre in Central Park returns this July with the classic comedy MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
But wait... here is the kicker. The Mayor, once an adversary, did not just relent but GAVE THE FUNDS TO BUILD THE THEATRE IN CENTRAL PARK. So belief in one's ideas can pay off. And people can cross over the divide to join hands and work shoulder to shoulder.

Watch out for the all day tribute to icon ASTAD DEBOO on his 74th birthday - July 13th. From 9am to 9pm our NARTHAKI and personal social media handles will alight with conversation and reminiscences of the mercurial iconoclast whose legacy and stamp on India's contemporary dance scene is unquestionable.

Stay safe, everyone. For those in India, please convince your household to vaccinate. This vaccine hesitation is confounding.

So, get the JAB done!

Until next month
- Anita R Ratnam
Cenotaph 2nd Lane and actually loving it!


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


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