In love’s struggle
One withers, as the other blossoms
One is shaded, the other illuminated
One’s a sheep, the other a shepherd
One’s the feet, the other a towering head
One’s a glutton as the other starves
One rides the winds as the other is trampled underfoot
One blossoms, the other fades
Geetanjali Shree, Booker Prize Winner RET SAMADHI (Hindi)
From the English translation TOMB OF SAND by Daisy Rockwell
March opened with sadness. My guide, well-wisher and long distance mentor, Guru Kanak Rele passed away. It was on the morning of February 22 that she took her last breath. Ailing for several weeks, the end was predicted. But nothing prepares us for the finality of the end. In this instance, Kanakben departs with an amazing legacy of an institution, pedagogy, performance, teaching and 50 continuous years of dance-obsessed service!
She was a huge influence on my teenage life. My first memory was sitting in the Madras Music Academy in the early 1970s and watching her confidently explain each Mohiniattam item, standing before the microphone, with hand gestures. Measured English and allowing the sentences with the gesture vocabulary to reach the house full audience. It was that evening that got me started on how to introduce my own dance pieces. Fast forward to 1979. New York City. Kanak Rele was on a temporary visit as the wife of Yatin Rele, head of Bank of India. Together we organised an evening of Mohiniattam at the Indian Consulate and this time, it was me who introduced her to the audience of several diplomatic dignitaries.
I was able to watch Kanakben at close quarters. She was a ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES AND LET'S GET TO WORK person. No attitude or hierarchical attitude when she wanted to get the job done. We would walk to the printers, take the taxi or a bus to Queens where the Indian stores were concentrated to put up the posters, stop off for Chai and samosa, share jokes about the bustling diversity of New York - it was a month of daily meetings and conversations across a generation.
She urged me to return to India where she felt that my impact would be greater than a minority presence in the US. When the first phone book of NARTHAKI was released in 1992, she was among the first 5 gurus to receive a copy. When the second edition came out in 1997, she advised me to write for grants to other institutions besides the Department of Culture. When this portal was launched in April 2000, her excited voice still rings in my ears.
In 2018, she insisted on meeting in Mumbai and made the trip to the NCPA where I was in rehearsal. So many phone conversations, too few meetings. A flood of memories.
#NEVER ENDING SPECTACLE
With the G 20, W 20, Y 20 in full swing in India, the large scale display of performing arts in the midst of food and celebrations have become an expected visual. Across several cities, dancers, acrobats, gymnasts, folk and classical artistes alongside musicians are staged on make shift stages, in doorways and parapets, archways and stairs. 100, 200, 300 artistes across genres are making this culture spectacle almost every week. And the one person who is commanding this venture is Maitreyee Pahari. Dancer and now events director, Maitreyee is at the head of a large team that not only stages these multi arts events for visiting heads of state and dignitaries, but is also "choreographing" the entry of the waiters, timing of the food service and the placement of the buffet tables in every venue. She is a veritable juggernaut!
I first saw her event 20 years ago at the HAUPTBAHNOF- main train station in Zurich, Switzerland. As part of the India Festival, Maitreyee had mounted 30 artistes of various styles for a moving audience of 100,000 travellers. Today, her team spends more time in airports and airplanes than most artistes in India.
A much awaited but highly secret event is scheduled for this month in Mumbai. Launching the delayed (due to Covid) performance space at the Ambani-JIO centre in Bandra are choreographers Mayuri and Madhuri Upadhya. 1000 dancers have been assembled across India and hosted in top secret to rehearse under the watchful eye of director Feroze Khan. This team had previously presented the popular stage version of the classic love story MUGHAL-E-AZAM. No photos, cell phones or visuals have been allowed in the rehearsal rooms or even private photos of the process have been prohibited among the performers. The premiere is the most sought after society invitation in India.
I have visited this centre in February of 2020, on the invitation of Kuchipudi dancer Amrita Lahiri. The MainStage was all set to host LION KING from Broadway. The technical specs were equal to world class standards, complete with rising platforms and all the bells and whistles of international theatres. The smaller theatres within the complex are also interesting and wait to be filled with interesting performances.
For now, we can add the JIO centre as a venue for world class entertainment in India.
#PLANNING A PARADE
Neila Sathyalingam and Chingay
When one thinks of large scale public spectacles of culture, we can name the raucous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro as one example of meticulous planning and the city's involvement in security, crowd control and post event clean up. Closer to India is the annual Chinese New Year CHINGAY PARADE in Singapore. I mention this because of my Kalakshetra guru Neila Sathyalingam and her 26 year involvement with the event. Mounted every year in February to mark the New Year, Neila and her team were responsible for the Indian segment. Preparations would commence in April and it would take a full 10 months for the design, conception, choreography and arrangement of the floats. Dancers who were situated atop the floats would have different movements to those on the street. Formerly covering Orchard Street (now moved to the Formula One Racetrack), the variety of adavus and improvised movements would be selected for covering space and those that could be repeated in a loop. The floats would frequently stop and a brief "performance" would be created for the throngs assembled on each side of the street. Costumes and themes would be ideated in Singapore and manufactured in Chennai by the dance tailors. Distances, time taken, water breaks for the dancers - would all be factored in. For Neila Sathyalingam, it was both an honour and a challenge to be at the helm of this national event. She confessed that it forced her to think of Bharatanatyam and choreography in a totally different way.
Singapore being a multi-cultural nation, the Malaysian and Chinese segments would also adhere to these strict norms.
CHINGAY and the RIO CARNIVAL are examples of stand-alone cultural events that the city/state support and for which planning for the next year begins as soon as the event concludes. Unlike in India!
#A SORORITY OF CHEERLEADERS
With Swarnamalya Ganesh & Priyadarsini Govind
In attendance to support the 12 recipients of the DEVI awards instituted by the NEW INDIAN EXPRESS newspapers, Swarnamalya and I watched the deserving awardees walk up to the dais to accept their award. I was wondering why print media is not being sensitive enough to the current discourse on identity and why a wider net was not being cast to select women from other geographical areas.
Priyadarsini Govind (Bharatanatyam) and Vishakha Hari (Harikatha) are outstanding artistes in their genres but why not include historians, scholars and a more diverse list of individuals in this hyper sensitive environment of identity politics? One would think that media would be the most alert to this current wave running through society.
#THE POWER OF GESTURE
With Valentine's Day past us, the image of LOVE with two fingers crossed was splashed all over media. Actors and celebrities across the world were photographed making the X mark with their thumb and forefinger denoting LOVE.
The power of gesture is subliminal. Like the clenched fist of the Black Lives Matter movement or the sculpture in KILVENMANI to remember the 1968 first recorded massacre against Dalits in independent India (used most effectively by director Prasanna Ramaswamy in her recent play) one should never underestimate the potency of non-verbal language.
#METOO marches on
The issue of sexual harassment continues to haunt the dance and music space in India. Power equations are not exclusive to the performing arts. Satyajit of Bharata Kalanjali and Ramya Rajaraman of Artspire are organizing a physical event 'PERSPECTIVES ON SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE ARTS' later this month in Chennai.
Meanwhile, several of the accused Carnatic musicians have silently made their way back to the performing roster of several festivals.
#THE MARCH OF TIME
And so to the issue of AGING and AGEISM. The furore over singer Madonna's facial appearance at the Grammy awards, Rihanna performing pregnant at the Super Bowl and the VOGUE cover issue of DOMINANT WOMAN, SUBMISSIVE MAN creating ripples - time has come to acknowledge women with ambition, power and intelligence. 50 or 60 is not an age to roll over and play dead. Even our most popular film actresses are now in their 40s and showing visible signs of anti-ageing injectibles. Men can age, faces lined and grey haired and still be considered "gorgeous" and "handsome" but women are not treated with the same lens.
In dance, Lakshmi Viswanathan was a picture of silver haired excellence in every public appearance. 79 year old Sudharani Raghupathy emanates a glowing radiance during her rare outings. At 90, Vyjayantimala continues to astound us.
Wherever successful and mature women walk in the world, they will confront ageism and racism. Strong, articulate, ambitious - these can be weaponised against them at every turn.
Walk in strength and courage, my 50 + and 60 + 70+ sisters, brothers and others. Make your every step a dance. Walk on, knowing that we must journey together - however tense and unequal the strides may be.
As for the younger ones - in your 20s, 30s and 40s. You too will get to this stage in life. Will you still be dancing? Will you continue to have joy and hope in your hearts? Will you refuse to be diminished, cancelled or trolled?
FUTURE FANTASTIC, A.I. inspired work (Photos: STEM Kampni archives)
Khajuraho concluded another successful edition of their annual dance and culture festival. This year the organisers looked at expanding the canvas of experiences with added talks, craft walks and other initiatives.
In Lucknow the colourful AWADH festival was marked by folk and classical music as well as several examples of the city's syncretic culture and intertwined faiths.
Looking to the future in India's tech and startup city Bengaluru is choreographer Madhu Nataraj. In a breakthrough initiative, Madhu and STEM DANCE KAMPNI are creating an AI inspired performance titled PALIMPSEST for the FUTURE FANTASTIC event later this month. Addressing the city's deteriorating environmental framework, this collaboration between science, art and technology promises to be exciting.
Another shout out to SIMRAN SIVAKUMAR who is now a dancer, film maker, editor, performer and social media influencer. Representing several national brands in digital ads and taking her dance company ANARTANA to London for a short performance before a sold out stadium, this young entrepreneur is someone to take note of.
Both artistes are currently guest performers in my dance company but who are looking outside the expected stage/ sabha/ presenter model for their careers.
# WELCOME TO NEW WRITERS
This past month has been very exciting for our platform. A host of new writers join our community. Among them are Kolkata based Kathakali Jana who begins a column titled DANCING ON AIR. We also welcome the bylines of Hema Iyer Ramani, Vinita Radhakrishnan, Dr. Rajiv Rajamani, Parshathy J Nath, Ananya Nair, Nainika Mukherjee, Shashank Kiron Nair, Saraswathi Vasudevan and KP Shruthi.
# EPIC WOMEN
Women's Day and HOLI converge this year. What a serendipitous coincidence! The joy of colour, the celebration of our gender and at least ONE DAY of rejoicing. Hold on to that spirit.
Our long awaited digital world premiere of EPIC WOMEN debuts with 6 films. 7 artistes and 5 topics. Commissioned with a vision to create short films on historical and modern women, the series promises to break new ground as the performers were mentored and encouraged to discover fresh and compelling ways to create their narratives. Congratulations to all the performers - Sruthi Mohan, Bindu Rajendren, Anuradha Venkataraman, P Tilagavathi, Chitra Arvind, Madhuvanti Sundararajan and Varsha Dasgupta.
Premiering March 4 & 5, 2023 at 10am IST
Tickets on Tikkl
Outside of India
As NARTHAKI.COM prepares to enter year #24, we renew our commitment to being sensitive to the changed environment in which we operate in. As we adapt to the increasing challenges to the arts in a polarised society, we are equally committed to being a platform that accommodates diverse voices and opinions.
Thank you for the enormous wave of support you have shown us through many challenging times.
May DANCE continue to be your North Star.
Until next time,
- Dr Anita R Ratnam
Chennai / Bangalore
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in
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