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March 10, 2011

“Words  are sacred. If we can get them in the right order, we can nudge the world a little.” This is one of the memorable quotes from Playwright Tom Stoppard. I found it at the end of one of senior cultural writer Shanta Serbjeet Singh’s e-mails. It brings to light a pressing issue that has been on my mind ever since the recent Chennai December dance season concluded. Several senior dancers, who are now at the status of legends, performed far below their capacities and audiences were dismayed at their lacklustre shows. Now how does a young dance writer respond to these legends? Should they write gently and suggest that they showed “glimpses of greatness” or should they just cover it all with a patina of hagiography and all round gushing? In any case, it is never easy to suggest that a dancer is past his/her prime.  This is a personal decision that every dancer needs to make after looking at the mirror and into themselves in a self reflexive manner which is sorely lacking.

So should legendary dancers be reviewed at all? Icons for an entire generation and beyond, should their performances be commented upon in public media space? One can argue that all performers who step onto the stage should be ready for public comment. In India, dance criticism has not matured to the level of international objective critique since the dancer and the writer are so interlocked that any hint of a suggestion or criticism is taken as a personal insult and writers and the publications are threatened with lawsuits. That is one reason why all arts criticism in India is not taken seriously in the world.

This time, we bring you various viewpoints of legendary dance icon Sonal Mansingh’s new avatar as a storyteller. Her passion, intelligence and brilliance as an Odissi dancer is unquestionable but the jury is still out on her new performances of NATYA KATHA (religious storytelling of Krishna’s life). Senior writers Sunil Kothari and Leela Venkataraman share two sides of the same performance that was held in New Delhi.

Will real Sonal Mansingh stand up, please? by Dr. Sunil Kothari

A new step by Leela Venkataraman

In 1985, Sonal Mansingh was the dancer whose name was replaced by the then young Malavika Sarukkai for the Festival of India in the USA. It was a tumultuous decision that surprised the arts world, but 28 years later, Sonal and Malavika are still dancing around the world. Malavika is the only dancer who has continued to be the favourite of the Indian government through many prime ministers and presidents. At age 51 she is at her prime and a true icon for thousands of fans.

News from Washington DC is that all performances of dances and theatre are sold out completely with standing ovations for all the artistes…. Long curtain calls, lusty cheering and flowers being thrown on to the stage… what a great feeling for our artistes. Congratulations to all and here’s wishing the ten days of the festival more success as crowds descend on the magnificent Kennedy Centre of the Arts complex on the river in DC. Of course, no Indian media is interested in covering the event which is a huge change from 26 years ago when I was the official Television producer for the year long Festival in the USA with 26 half hour dispatches from around the country.

Enjoy the reading of the many sides of dance in your favourite website.

Thank you for the continuing support of our efforts.
Anita R Ratnam

Twitter: @aratnam
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Blog: THE A LIST /

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