We watched. That is all we did
Watched faces as they came in and out of focus
Watched as the angles of our vision widened
To include even what we would never see
In our lifetimes. This is how we begin
Somewhere in the middle
We lost our way
We thought mazes and labyrinths
And brains folded around themselves
Patterns teased and seduced us
We believed we had all the time in the world
- Excerpt from TWISTING, a poem by SRIDALA SWAMI
We have almost arrived at an important moment!
TWO WHOLE YEARS HAVE PASSED BY...
104 weeks that started with a "trial lockdown" on Sunday March 22, 2020 and will be completed on March 20, 2022.
And now, two whole years later, it is time to take stock of our lives, ourselves and our artistic pathways.
All of us have either suffered the virus - some more than once - and many have lost loved ones.
My own personal loss of my favourite uncle one month ago, came as a rude shock and a wakeup call. Seeing the stream of mourners who came to condole made me realise that no amount of wealth and resources can make up for the way every face had aged, grayed and wrinkled over the past 2 years.
Sprightly friends were walking slower, stooping a little, shuffling too. Some came in wheelchairs and others were missing. The virus had taken their last breath.
The only gleaming, glossy, glamorous objects on display were the new SMART PHONES that everyone was carrying!
Such morbid thoughts may not be the way to start an editorial when Spring is in the air and we are all looking forward to warmer weather and getting out into the "real world". Holiday and destination travel have quadrupled.
But the prospect of another cold war looms and as world citizens we should be worried and outraged at overt acts of military aggression, at thefts, rape and malpractice. Yet why are we rarely roused when small acts of thievery occur to our creative efforts. I speak of the unethical recording of my recent online storytelling session on KOTTRAVAI-Mother of the Desert. Created and premiered on the request of Laura Simms, America's most renowned storyteller, my short retelling was recorded by several viewers without prior permission from the presenter or myself, the artiste. How does "sharing in the name of promoting art" be sanctioned? Are we such a culturally corrupt society that does not value intellectual property?
Theatre directors and senior actors are now complaining that many are reluctant to return to live rehearsals, having become lazy with the online medium. The best actors are being snapped up by the online streaming platforms and are unavailable for stage shows. Have dancers also become a bit sluggish to return to the fierce demands of a live stage and audience? I have been watching some of my older videos, recorded not longer than 5 or 10 years ago and feel that the movements and pacing is nowhere as quick and military-precise as the current trend demands. My elbows are not ram rod straight, my araimandi is not copybook perfect, my torso is not pliant enough - I could go on and on. So, will the relentless two year online digital presentations inform and affect my return to the rehearsal space? Yes and no is my vague answer. For now.
I start work on a new play and a new solo. The demands are more than just stamina. They are about concentration, gathering a scattered mind into the present and thinking about the WHOLE BODY and not just waist up as so many ZOOM conversations or seated Abhinaya sessions have called for. Plus, what about the audience's optics? Tastes have changed and attention spans have been impacted. Will my slow and measured response in movement be suitable for a post pandemic performance world?
These past two years have seen the rise of so many unknown and talented artistes. New ideas have taken flight, a youth quake has been felt around the globe. We have heard numerous voices, so far unseen and unheard that have unleashed their pent up energies and artistry onto the digital universe. We have watched entrepreneurial energies emerge and have been temporarily drowned by shrill anger and pure vitriol. While caste and class were the twin springboards for online anger, the statements of dance scholar Urmimala Sarkar should be heeded. She spoke at the ATTAKKALARI BIENNALE - "We should welcome all voices but we must not stop dancing."
# INDIAN MUSIC EXPERIENCE
With Madhu Nataraj & Manasi Prasad
This is a revelatory MUST VISIT space in Bengaluru. The Indian Music Experience is a truly fabulous world class interactive museum with state of the art technology and design that we can be proud of. Dancer and bestie Madhu Nataraj took me along on my recent visit to the Garden City, and I was beyond thrilled. Together we created a funky "mix' on the spot of Indian and western instruments on their technology board, listened to the voices and rare recordings of so many legendary greats, watched short movie clips and a lovely animated introductory film. I also took my chances at "creating" a soundscape on metal ridges - without much success. Madhu and I were like kids in an aural 'mithai' shop.
There was also a cute and goofy photo op station from the popular Bollywood movie THREE IDIOTS which got quite a crowd to stop and click.
Classical, folk, modern, Indie-fusion, traditional instruments, rare recordings - the confluence of India's fantastic and fabulous musical heritage coalesces right here at the IME.
Our guide was the articulate and wonderful musician Manasi Prasad, who guided us through with her informed and animated descriptions.
With music being such an integral part of the Indian dance experience, the IME must get on the 10 top destinations for any performing artiste or any creative person visiting India.
The news of the beloved imprint WESTLAND PUBLISHERS going out of business and the decision to pulp all their books left many readers shocked. Not to mention the numerous authors and poets that WESTLAND had nurtured and brought to light.
The news was devastating and the prospect of the giant behemoth AMAZON gobbling up all the independent book houses was a dampener.
What about us dancers? What if a fire catches our storage overnight and reduces our recordings, costumes and precious materials? What if our life's work is "PULPED"? Have we ever thought about the hours and years that we have spent creating our legacies - no matter how large or small? What are we leaving behind and for whom?
There are books and papers and articles and notes about dance that need to be collated and collected into one space. Dancers are constantly asking for good reading material, and videos of earlier dance works. What are we doing for the next generation besides teaching items and preparing them for "arangetrams?"
When I visited the Sangeet Natak Akademi archives over 20 years ago - during the tenure of Vice Chairman Shyamanand Jalan - I was shocked to see videotapes lying on the floor. Tapes of Guru Kittappa Pillai, Ranjabati Sircar's last recorded performance of CASSANDRA and Rukmini Devi's interview with Sudharani Raghupathy. They were scattered on the carpet. Great artistes whose lifetime of work and ideas were not yet stored in proper conditions. We did get to watch several rare recordings released on the digital medium by the SNA, but many of the tapes had been damaged with constant glitches and garbled sound in some places.
And what about the 40 years of Krishna Gana Sabha's historic NATYA KALA CONFERENCE tapes?
Have they been digitised and created as a library for dancers to access?
A confluence of path breaking demonstrations and ideas in one place. How can we watch these talks and presentations that started in 1982 - India's first annual dance conference?
With such callous and short sighted vision, is it a surprise that many dancers are thinking of donating their work to more responsible institutions like the NEW YORK LIBRARY FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS or others like this?
Or, how about we stop looking for answers outside of our own geographies and ourselves? Let us explore avenues of archiving and publishing that have opened up right here in India. Our legacies are in our hands. If we don't act soon, then we too will eventually be PULPED!
# TA KI TA TOM
Ramli Ibrahim is returning to India after a 2 year hiatus with his stunning book KUMBH MELA and his dance company for a multi city tour.
Malavika Sarukkai marks 50 years of her dance career on March 12 with a new premiere at Mumbai's Jamshed Bhabha Theatre - ANUBANDH - a call to "connectedness" after the loneliness of a fractured life during the pandemic. Drawing on the five elements, Malavika's latest solo choreography will see her "move in a totally new way" (her words to me in a private conversation).
The new documentary NOTES TO MYSELF produced by Savitha Narasimhan for the Museum of Performing Arts continues its record breaking video presentations with THE DHANANJAYANS, which as of this writing, has already notched up 50 thousand views!
The legendary dance couple was also formally awarded with the prestigious KALIDAS SAMMAN last month.
ADISHAKTI THEATRE, Pondicherry, founded by Veenapani Chawla continues to find new ways to interest and engage young theatre lovers and students. To mark 40 years of ADISHAKTI, founded by Veenapani in her Mumbai flat, directors Vinay Kumar and Nimmy Raphel have conceived of a yearlong programme that engages experts in dance and theatre to share practical knowledge and experience with students.
To mark the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo and the 55th year of the founding of AUROVILLE, (Feb 28, 1968), the township is mounting multiple events in the visual and live arts. An exhibition on the galaxy plan approved by THE MOTHER (Mira Alfassi) and created by French architect Roger Anger will be mounted. Auroville has attracted a multitude of creative talent in design, dance, music and architecture. Today sound engineer Aurelio is in great demand for his unique SONIC HEALING ROOMS and AURAL MEDITATION CUBES that adorn luxury and boutique hotels across India.
THEATRE NISHA, a Chennai based ensemble has premiered a play called MARGAZHI, inspired by the acclaimed book UNFINISHED GESTURES by Canadian scholar Davesh Soneji.
With Sundari Teacher
The passing of G SUNDARI of Kalakshetra on February 3 marked the end of a grand era that ran parallel with Rukmini Devi's vision for an integrated educational system that included the arts, environment and learning. Sundari Teacher was short tempered with an acerbic wit and opinion on everybody and everything. Our own editor Lalitha Venkat grew close to her over the past 17 years, visiting her every other week and enjoying walks in the verdant Theosophical Society. She was instrumental in shepherding important books on Periya Sarada Teacher NIRMALAM (that I published), a second on Sankara Menon, the iconic educationist titled SANKARA MENON: PURUSHOTHAMAN and a book on KRISHNAVENI OF KALAKSHETRA. Sundari Teacher lived out her last days in the comfort of an elders home with the kind patronage of Pritha Reddy, MD of Apollo Hospitals and a former Kalakshetra student.
Singapore cultural icon SANTHA BHASKAR passed away suddenly on Feb 26 when supervising the second day of celebrating 70 years of Bhaskar's Arts Academy.
Academician and translator of Vaishnavite sacred texts Dr Archana Venkatesan has been selected for the prestigious AK RAMANUJAN prize for translation by the Institute of Asian Studies, USA. Dr Venkatesan, author of the acclaimed IN ANDAL'S GARDEN, received the honour for her book ENDLESS SONG, the poetry of Bhakti Tamil poet Nammalwar's TIRUVAIMOZHI.
AMBUJAM KRISHNA, the popular 20th century composer of Bhakti songs has a new website launched by her family, ambujamkrishna.com that gives free access to her numerous songs with translations and detailed explanations.
Prathibha Prahlad is presenting EKA ANEKA as an all night festival in association with CHITRA KALA PARISHAD, Bengaluru to mark SIVARATRI on March 1.
NARTHAKI's SIVARATRI festival will be on the YOU TUBE platform of NARTHAKI OFFICIAL and will feature an ambitious roster of continuous programming that starts at 6pm on March 1st and continues until 6am on March 2. A-NIDRA, the many shades and moods of Lord Siva will feature 35 artistes in dance, yoga, silambam, talks and music. Male dancers are in the spotlight with curators Surya Rao, Srikanth & Aswathy and L Subhasri.
I have refrained from commenting on the numerous online dance festivals and programmes in this month's writing. The instant reviews seem to please one and all and my comments do not really add to the echo chamber applause. I only wish we had a way like cinema reviews and the Star rating system. From 1 to 5 stars. My rating for most performances would be 2 and 1/2 stars or ELBOW WATCHING. I think this term used in TIMES OF INDIA movie reviews means that one watches with the elbows on the seats and it never gets exciting enough to lean forward. So it means a kind of SO-SO performance. 2 stars is for POOR and 3 stars for ABOVE AVERAGE!
However, I must share my thoughts on the recent collaboration between Bharatanatyam dancer Mythili Prakash and Carnatic musician T M Krishna. While the actual digital performance was underwhelming, the questions that were asked were important. Has the digital format and the obsession with creating one minute "reels" overtaken the long form full evening concert? What kind of art are we producing and why? Who is watching? Who are the experts today on what "works" and what is "has been"? Will artistes who have deep dived into their art as a "sadhana" be considered "irrelevant"? Musician Anil Srinivasan writes in his occasional column THE PIANO MAN in THE HINDU that, according to author Manu Joseph, "being famous is a punishment in today's world. It is easier to find contentment in having a niche for one's work and the adequate support to keep it going."
You will be reading this while I am in the Bay Area of Northern California. Discussions for a new play, meeting artistes and friends, walking the familiar paths of NYC are moments that I will now cherish more than ever. Except, I am certainly not walking in the typical long New York stride with pre-occupied haste and grim eyes. My steps are slower and more measured as I look around and take my time. Savour the familiar and acknowledge the new. To sip slower, enjoy the view and drink with my eyes and heart!
Take care, everyone. Step out and step into a brave new world.
A world where wars are very present
Where OUTRAGE is now a valid Rasa.
Leap. Pirouette. Twirl. Swirl. Lunge. Twist.
Look up, Look down, Look straight ahead.
Watch where you tread.
We are all walking on our dreams
To all those creative souls in Kyiv, may you remember your historic resistance in the winter of 2013 to give you hope and courage in the face of adversity
May the passion for your art and country keep your hearts pumping!
And for those birthday children of February 29th (Ashish Mohan Khokar) - best wishes once in four years!
Women's Day - March 8 - is upon us once again. It seems more urgent than ever to create work of power, purpose and resistance. Being sharply or gently political is not a choice anymore. Creative people must forge new ways of making art in these strange and rather cruel times.
Until next month...
- Anita R Ratnam
San Mateo / NYC / Chennai
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in
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