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June 1, 2018

"We should consider a day lost in which we don't dance at least once."
- Friedrich Nietzsche (Philosopher)

May is a month of heat, holidays and hiatus.

It used to be that dancers would take a break from the searing heat to rest, recoup and reflect.
No longer.
Too many dancers - too many platforms - too little money. The conundrum continues…

With such low expectations, dancers are content to zip their mouths and accept performance opportunities without any remuneration - in India.


Why are overnight presenters/choreographers/directors unafraid to approach dancers and teachers with a concept/platform/exposure while never discussing money at all?

Young dancers say that they are tired of rehearsing in their living rooms and rehearsal studios.
So why not accept something readymade where they just have to dance?
Or, what is wrong in a presenter openly asking dancers to pay for a chance to perform?

A recent raging debate on WHATSAPP focused on the above topic from a Telangana based festival director. The question of money was transparent. PAY TO DANCE.
The emotions ranged from outrage and anger to acceptance and dejection.

“At least this person is open in asking for money!”
“We are not getting any opening to further our art, so why not pay for a performance!”
“What's wrong in this? Almost every Sabha in Chennai is doing the same thing, only secretly!”

A huge wrong has become somewhat accepted in the larger miasma of corruption in India - more the norm than the exception. But does that make it right?

This is where dancers are drifting - without a formal body or organization to take up their rights.
But, will dancers stay united?
Will greedy teachers and impatient parents abide by the rules?
The disorganization and chaos is what predators feed on.

ABHAI - Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India - needs to have a cell for grievances. Or perhaps a respected body like the NCPA Mumbai can host an open discussion.
Something has to be done.
I cannot be among the lone voices writing, protesting and urging young dancers to respond and speak up. We need multiple voices like the #METOO movement. Watching sexual predator Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs was a watershed moment for the women he violated.

Will dance in INDIA have the courage to speak up and step up?

The first week of May brought dance delights in a range of experiences. The very successful summer workshop sessions conducted by ABHAI have been over subscribed each year.

Workshop by Parshwanath Upadhye

Well known gurus sharing one item from their repertory allows eager students from across India to attend this annual Chennai session.

Workshop by Geeta Chandran

This year BN rock star Parshwanath Upadhye taught over 100 students in the lobby of the Narada Gana Sabha foyer. And senior dancer/guru Geeta Chandran taught her now iconic MALLARI with the music notations to another 100 plus group.

I attended the final day of Geeta's session and was amazed to see the happy faces - absorbing all that was thrown at them like porous blotting paper. To listen to the students singing the MALLARI was also so heartening.
So much energy, so much talent, so much potential.

What happens when LIFE intervenes?
The smile vanishes, hope fades and these vibrant beings disappear like mist into the shadows.


The first week of May also witnessed an Indo-French collaboration from Auroville titled BHU.
Using Kalaripayattu as the kinetic metaphor, this somewhat Orientalist production managed to rise above the clichés and simplified narrative of the five elements to showcase some of the best Kalari I have seen in decades. A grateful nod and shout out to Chandralekha for bringing the power and grace of Kalari to the performance stage 30 years ago. In BHU (which means EARTH) the performers also played percussion instruments thus providing the soundscape. Senior actor/dancer Thierry Moucazambo (The Water Carriers Company, Reunion Islands) provided the dramatic anchor. Sinuous, powerful, sensuous, seductive - Kalari glistened in sweat soaked glory.

My initial irritation with the idea of a dysfunctional protagonist “finding his inner equilibrium” by realigning the five elements within, was dispelled by the clarity and ensemble energy of the cast. The production tours India and internationally and my prediction is that brown bodies wrapped in brief “Komanams” will be eye candy for Anglo Centric eyes in Europe. Here's wishing that the Indian performers, led by the spectacular Swaroop Kannan, also get a chance to speak and articulate their process instead of being co-opted by the French director Philippe Baldini.


For centuries, this town was the capital of the Maratha Kingdom. The Sarfoji dynasty were brilliant patrons of the arts, supporting the Trinity of Carnatic Music - Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri- as well as the famed Tanjore Quartet brothers - Ponnaiah, Chinnaiah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu- the architects of vintage/traditional Bharatanatyam. Their famous palace grounds and Darbar Hall bore witness to the zenith of art, cuisine, architecture, education, archives, debate and active intellectual ferment.

Today, the complex looks forlorn and ruined. The impressive Darbar hall where King Sarfoji the 2nd sat and watched the famed Devadasis in performance is now scratched over with names of lovers and film stars - nobody seems to care.

If this is what the state of our historical and cultural institutions are - then what stops many of us who are lovers of history and traditions from wanting someone with knowledge for these irreplaceable treasures take over? Even if it means that they are not from the soil of Bharat Mata and they don't have Hindu names?

When I think of the ruinous state today of the annual MAHABALIPURAM festival in Tamilnadu that was ideated and conceived by Lakshmi Viswanathan in 1991, my heart twinges. Memories of that first series set against Thota Tharani's magnificent set that enhanced the already impressive ARJUNA'S PENANCE stone frieze are vivid. From the very next year, the Government took over the event from Lakshmi and the rest is horrible history! Druggies, drunks, wandering hippies, taxi drivers and bystanders are the main audiences. None of us established artistes want to perform there. On the one chance that I did (with my ensemble) 22 years ago, the unsightly backdrop of the Chief Minister's face and the ugly hoardings ruined any chance of ambience.

In the midst of my despondency came an email from Hari Krishnan/InDance which contained a clip from an earlier concert at the Tanjavur palace. What an amazing difference lighting and staging can do to a badly maintained venue! REX certainly transformed the show into a thing of sheer beauty!


Source: Internet

So you think only Live Arts performers can create the NAVA RASAS?
Take a look at the newly redesigned website of the French Tennis Roland Garrison tournament. They have short articles with a picture of players accompanied by single word that suggests a RASA. Let's add to that the recently concluded IPL Cricket Galatta.

M S Dhoni - JOY
Stan Wawrinka- FRUSTRATION
Jelena Ostapenko - DEJECTION
Novak Djokovic- RELIEF
Sasha Zverev - CONFIDENCE
Shane Watson - ELATION

Fans & Audiences - STRESS

With athletics becoming such a theatrical spectacle, emotions of both players and audience are truly what makes Tennis a modern GLADIATORIAL EVENT. High drama, cheers, boos, tears and celebration - sports sees them all in a dizzying, giddy intensity. So the traditional emotional tropes are expanded to include many more states of being.

I hope those who watched these cricket matches observed the imported female cheerleaders gyrating away after every boundary or sixer was hit! The Chennai team had one energetic male dancer who performed a mixture of filmi dance with hip hop and the Madras film ishtyle called “Kutthu” movements!

In every walk of life - Sports, Education, Business - there are always winners and losers. But for the ARTS. We make our own horizons and goals. Nobody loses when immersed in the creative life. WE ARE ALL WINNERS.

I have been taught the importance of sports by my parents who were ardent enthusiasts of tennis, golf, cricket and swimming. It is sports that has taught me the knack of competing, of winning and losing. Dancers must throw their bodies into this world. Hiking, swimming, running. Just do it…

The new director of Kalakshetra, Revathi Ramachandran is an ardent basketball player. She too endorses my view of sports being an important alternative to a dancer's roster of physical activity. As she assumes her full time position over the troubled institution, let's see if the neglected basketball hoops on campus become active again.


Indian families return from their vacations and US families embark on their long holidays. We welcome the influx of summer students who visit to boost our dance economy - music recordings, new costumes, auditions for new productions, intense classes, buying books and DVDs for copying / imitating / learning???, studying with senior gurus rather than Skyping - the shadow economy traipses along.

Almost all our dance musicians are overseas for the multiple ARANGETRAMS- hoarding their coffers and leaving many serious India based dancers bereft of musical support.
In basements across the US, curd rice, tamarind rice, lemon rice and potato chips are consumed by the gallons. Valiant parents are busy ferrying dance musicians to malls and stores for “gifts” in exchange for their services for their daughters' debut performances.
And after that expensive, mostly forgettable day- then what?

Photos, videos don't quite capture the relief that is expressed all around.
Mridangists swear that they mostly don't look at the feet of the dancer while playing for fear of missing their own beats!
Flautists close their eyes and play!
Audience members sit stoically looking furtively at their watches!
The Food Court (mandatory) awaits to be gorged upon!

The Arangetram debut mostly ends with the dancer never returning to dance class!
And there goes 6 to 8 years of training!

10 X 10
It was with great satisfaction that I read the flattering reviews of the recently concluded DRISHTIKON dance showcase in New Delhi. Mentored and trained by Aditi Mangaldas, the 10 dancers created their own evening of dances to illuminate their innovative training methods using classical Kathak and other physical training methodologies that their guru has inserted into her daily practice. With apparently positive results, this is excellent news for Kathak dancers looking to expand horizons and using their traditional roots to explore and innovate.

Aditi Mangaldas (Photo: Dinesh Khanna)

Except that with Aditi, it has been over 30 years of trial and error and she continues to be restless and dissatisfied - pushing her body and mind to create and stimulate. THAT is the quality I admire!


I took almost the entire month off for a much needed holiday - doing little except watching the mists and sipping endless cups of excellent tea. I returned to the kitchen to make my favorite foods and rediscovered the therapeutic art of cooking. I did not read much but spent hours walking in the hills and listening to bird calls and the silhouettes of bison. I also binge watched my favorite genre of British, Scandinavian and Turkish cop and crime serials. I was the delightful and willful dilettante.

Try it sometime... It feels great!

And so it goes!

Welcome to the longest day of the year - June 15th

Return to the grind and demands of dance - whatever it asks of you
Throw yourself into the never ending carousel of body and mind
Prepare yourself with the mind of a champion athlete
Attack that stage like a playing field or court and remember to leave all those grunts and whoops aside
To perform is to pretend... to act as if it is easy and natural
Exhale- Enjoy- Exhilarate

Have a blast!

Dr. Anita R Ratnam

Thank you all for the birthday wishes. It gives me so much satisfaction to see the warmth of so many, most of whom I have never met but for whom my work and words mean so much. It gives me fuel as I begin my travels overseas for the next 6 months of the year.

As racism rears its ugly head all over Europe, I grit my psyche for the unexpected.
Kajal lined eyes and flowing dresses immediately conjures up the enemy to ignorant locals.

And so it goes…
Or so it MUST NOT GO!

Twitter: @aratnam
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Instagram: @anitaratnam
Blog: THE A LIST /

Dear Anita ji
Read your editorial. I 100% support you on the Pay and Perform scenario.I am a Kathak dancer and have had to give up some programmes only due to this so called 'norm'.
I run a dance e-magazine called Loud Applause and have tried to raise this point a number of times. Unfortunately, hardly received any response from dancers/gurus/students. I ended up having fights with people but the scenario is getting worse and the genuine dancers are the victims. I just hope things change before they too fall in line of this disgusting norm which might become a tradition.
I, through my magazine, will support your stand and hope in future we will be able to start a movement #Iwillnotpay #mydancemyrules #donotpayandperform in collaboration.
- Neha Muthiyan (June 1, 2018)

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