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May 1, 2016

"The ghosts of our future are unpredictable and out of control."
- Poet Wendy Rose

Hello Dance World! What’s APP-ening!

The loudest shout I hear is - MAY DAY! MAY DAY! MAY DAY!

May 1st. A day which traditionally celebrates the final thawing of snow and the advent of flowers, warmer weather and softening hearts, the ritual MAYPOLE dance (resembling the Pinnal Kolattam of Tamils), the term is also used for rescue and relief efforts. Judging by the recent outrage and furor over the national awards given to two Kuchipudi artistes, it would seem that the classical style from pre-divided Andhra Pradesh is now in dire danger. Or as one critic put it pithily on his personal Facebook page, “Kuchipudi is in ICU!”

What brings about these heightened emotions? After all, not every award goes to a deserving, talented, hard working artiste. Art, like life, is not a level playing field. If one is to look at the TRISHUL of Money, Social Connections and PR savvy, then many aggressive individuals may get the rewards before their time. However, when a nodal arts organization comes under fire for its selection process, the matter mandates a closer look. Every five years the Sangeet Natak Akademi invites and selects several eminent performers, scholars and gurus on their Executive and General Councils. In my own experience, the field of dance has always been a “FREE FOR ALL” for anyone and everyone to comment upon. When a dancer tries to make a comment about a musician or a theatre actor, we are constantly brushed aside with “You are not in the field so please restrict your comments to dance.” Is this because dance and dancers are not respected enough and are considered too narcissistic and myopic to look beyond their own personal advancement? In any event, the present furor is about two dancers selected for the Senior and Junior awards that many in the Kuchipudi community are asking “WHO”?????

For all the spectacular and pioneering work that SNA has achieved since its inception in 1952, moments like this make the arts fraternity stop and question. The artistes selected for awards should inspire and encourage the next generation of performers. A good mixture of senior 80 plus gurus and younger in-form performers should both be considered.

Our column Roses and Thorns contains an article by Veejay Sai about the recent Kuchipudi awards fracas.

Meanwhile, phone calls, letters, e-mails, legal intimidation and strong words are flying around. Accusations and innuendos - all quite distressing for those working and creating in the field of dance. Add to this current uproar is the ongoing feud between two dance commentators via e-mail and irate accusations against Ramli Ibrahim in Odisha during his recent tour of GANJAM. Why is it then not surprising that Dance and Dancers are the laughing stock of society and government! The sad truth is that with the upcoming elections, national security breaches, acute drought, financial scandals, continuing caste and class wars, CULTURE and ARTS is the last priority on the government’s mind.

Now that Andhra Pradesh has been sliced into two and Kuchipudi becoming the state classical dance style of Andhra, what will the new born Telangana do? Will they now lobby for Perini to become the state form? For years, West Bengal has been trying to get Gaudiya Nritya recognized as a classical dance form, though the case presented has not yet succeeded. Now it’s onto Perini… A martial, vigorous, testosterone charged performance after victory in battle, hot headed Telangana-garus will be arguing like the fiery mango Avakkai pickles! Aiyyyyyooooo Kadavuley! (Holding my head, which is throbbing with this banality!)


Does anyone really care about what is happening to issues affecting the dance world in India today? Certainly the UK has long since rejected the nostalgia syrup being doled out by many senior gurus about MOTHERLAND, HOMEGROWN and SOURCE OF TRADITION. Confidence is oozing forth via the dynamic and exciting NAVADISHA 2016 conference in Birmingham later this month. Just reading the exciting line up of talks, shows and discussions will force me to encounter an array of topics and ideas… each diverse and certainly rooted in the Britain of today - multicultural like chicken tikka and High Tea! CELEBRATE, DELIBERATE, COLLABORATE! Those are the words as tagline phrase for the three day event being held at the celebrated MAC Theatre.

My participation is on panels discussing Collaboration and Creativity. The issue of older dancers will be the focus of a day long programme at London’s ALCHEMY festival at the South Bank Centre. Invited to lead the discussion, I look forward to sharing my own journey and the singular arc of reinventing and re-examining my own art in today’s youth fuelled world.

Imagined by dynamic Chitra Sundaram, Anita Srivastava and generous mother hen Piali Ray, NAVADISHA comes 16 years after their ground breaking 2000 conference. How much has changed since the first conference! It truly seems like a previous “janma!” NAVADISHA in May 2000 was 16 months before 9/11, 4 years before Facebook, 6 years before Twitter, 8 years before Pinterest, 10 years before Instagram, 11 years before Snapchat. Before, Before, Before. Just think of how these social media inventions have completely altered the way in which we watch, consume, create and share the art of dance today. In 2000 we spoke and shared ideas. Today, everything is shared via live streaming and comments are instant!

Flush with funds in areas outside London, the UK Government is making a major push for its multicultural identity through the arts. As is Canada. The progressive ultra cool young PM Justin Trudeau has announced a record breaking multibillion dollar arts budget as central to the social and cultural fabric of Canada. What luck! What foresight to actually go ahead and implement what we in India have been talking for decades as our unique “soft power”!

Meanwhile, there was WORLD DANCE DAY on April 29th and the host of events clustering around this day that was most certainly not created by anyone in Asia. With temperatures soaring above 42 degrees centrigrade (well above 100F) dance is the last thing on anyone’s mind, given the impending election mayhem and the acute drought in many parts of India. Perhaps dancers should pause and think about dancing about lush waters and the flowing Ganga (now the most polluted river in the world!). 

April should also be heralded for being National Contemporary Dance Month. So many festivals in one month featuring a diverse roster of national and international names prove that the field of contemporary dance is expanding and the exploration has gathered momentum.

Indo-Jazz, Indo-Kathak, Indo-Soul, Indo-Flow... these are some of the titles under which sessions are being taught. Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi are the cities for these performances and we hope to feature some of these reports on the site in the coming weeks.

My two city workshops - PUNE and NEW DELHI - were based on the ideas of MUSCLE MEMORY. What does the body inherit as movement, cultural memory, natural and instinctive behavior modes before a formal dance class. How does the performative aspect of everyday life in India affect or suggest other ways of being or doing? Does the body have an individual intelligence not governed by the mind? At what stage can the muscles execute on “auto-pilot”? Both cities were completely different in terms of participants and attitudes. A detailed report will be carried soon.

I have a confession. I still cry while listening to our national anthem. Yes. My eyes well up each time I go to Mumbai or Delhi’s PVR Cinemas where the anthem is played before each screening. (Tamilnadu cinemas do not play the national anthem).  Dabbing my eyes and regaining my seat, I was immediately confronted with a golden robot performing the signature dance moves of Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan with the bold words “Entertaining Features”. How easily some intelligent choreography becomes identified with a particular actor! Rajnikant’s limited but iconic hip shakes, Rajesh Khanna’s head tilt, Shah Rukh’s double arm extensions, Madhuri’s spot on twirls... they are all so recognizable! Kudos to those creative choreographers, who  continue to inspire with some very intelligent choreography in cinema. Let us not also forget the enormous influence that cinema had on Bharatanatyam, where the very first screen credit as choreographer went to Guru Ramaiah Pillai.


The film I watched was the current hit JUNGLE BOOK, a remake of the well known children’s tale by Rudyard Kipling of the same name. What made this version so spectacular was that there was only one lone actor - young Neel Sethi - an Indo American NRI kid who was making his film debut. Playing entirely against a blue screen, Neel had to emote, act, dance, leap, jump, smile and laugh all on his own! The lovable characters of Baloo the Bear, Ka the snake, Sher Khan the Tiger villain were all animated. Well, is that not what we dancers do? Create entire worlds and situations through our art? Trees, animals, nature, a parade of characters are conjured up without the help of any CGI or Motion Capture technology. We use the most incredible machine- the human body and our faces!

Film makers are predicting that with the success of JUNGLE BOOK, live actors will become scarce in the next 25 to 40 years. I say that LIVE AUDIENCES are becoming scarce RIGHT NOW in India for dance! With crowded cities, choked roads and frequent power cuts, there is little incentive to step out of our homes to attend any dance, music or theatre presentation. The temptation to watch online, browse YouTube and talk on SKYPE or WhatsApp is more and more desirable. Imagine a situation in my own city - Chennai - where students who live in uber crowded Mambalam now learn classical music via SKYPE when their teacher is sitting in Thiruvanmiyur about 6 kms away!

And so it will come as a timely announcement that dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant has condensed 4 decades of teaching into an APP designed to help Bharatanatyam dancers practice their adavus. Fuelled by the digital drive sweeping India, her offering is called NATYARAMBHA and promises to bridge the gap between classroom practice and home rehearsals. Await the launch date!

Summer is also the time for dance and art camps, when parents happily send their kids to day long sessions of storytelling, sports, yoga, painting and other activities. Modern dance studios are filled with eager students wanting to learn the moves for hip hop, salsa, freestyle, jazz and film dance. If only schools and homes continue this engagement with the arts during the academic year, we may just get a whole new generation of rasikas!

The young may be smart, savvy and wired differently from us born before 1990. But they are also impatient, attention challenged and unreasonably ambitious. Quick results ASAP. Ask many parents who drove their children across hundreds of miles to the recently concluded Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana arts mega event. Located on the campus of Case Western University in Cleveland Ohio, 8 and 9 year olds and their pushy stage parents are already asking about  “manodharma” (individual exploration) in Carnatic music instead of concentrating on their sarali varusai and janda varusai “etudes”. Talk about fast track learning!

The devastating fire that ravaged the FICCI Building housing the National Museum of Natural History in New Delhi brings up the issue of a National Museum of Performing Arts. When will it be started? Is there a plan to make it a reality? As many of us archive and document our life long work, the question we ask is, “Where can we donate our books and videos?” But good news continues to seep in-between all these bureaucratic delays. GATI-New Delhi will inaugurate their MA Course in Contemporary Performance Practice. Ambedkar University outside New Delhi has earned a good buzz with its Graduate and Post Graduate Courses in Dance and Performing Arts. Attakkalari in Bangalore continues to attract a growing number of students for its short term courses in Multimedia and Movement Arts. Crowds are increasing for culture talks about heritage, temples, tradition, design, textiles and cuisine. New museums are opening or being refurbished in Ujjain and Hampi. Temples are getting gleaming makeovers and in Mumbai a spurt of smaller spaces are opening up for creative engagements. A few months ago, I wrote about a professional theatre in the Phoenix Market City mall in Lower Parel, Mumbai. In Chennai, the recent performance of Atul Kumar’s PIYA BEHRUPIA also was staged inside a mall to bursting crowds of the young and restless. These lifestyle spaces are perhaps the new mecca for consumption of food, alcohol AND the arts!

I recently addressed a group of real estate professionals requesting them to construct a multi- purpose theatre in their towering apartment buildings. Besides a party room, a gymnasium, a club house, a pharmacy, supermarket and playground which are now automatically present in all developments, a space that can accommodate music, theatre, dance and art exhibitions would be ideal for gated community living that is becoming the norm in urban India.

May is also the month when we celebrate our Mothers. As we mark the passing of diva Sonal Mansingh’s 103 year old mother last week, we celebrate the irreplaceable efforts of most mothers who served as catalysts and inspiration to their dancing daughters. I know that without my own mother Leela Ratnam’s dogged determination, I would never have had the opportunity to dance. She fought her conservative in-laws and a very strict father who were convinced that a Brahmin dancing girl was a “black mark”!  Our monthly column MOTHERS BY DAUGHTERS and OTHERS re-launches with the thoughts of the one and only ALARMEL VALLI.

Another column returns with an expanded vision - Not just anyBODY that focuses on a new ecology of wellness for the dancer. Health, nutrition, diet, cuisine, exercise, personal diaries, pre-performance routines… they will all be discussed and shared. We are delighted to have well known culinary expert and Global Gourmand Uma Pushpanathan from Kuala Lumpur, whose kitchen is the envy of the city, open our column with her delicious recipes. Sumitra Sekaran, an Iyengar Yoga teacher, will begin to share some of her tips for dancers very soon. I will soon share a diary of bonding between my new SAKHA (A FITBIT) and myself!

We hope you enjoy these new features and continue to keep dance at the centre of your lives and actions! To all those whom I meet in my travels, thank you for reading and visiting our site which has become a companion to so many of you in a myriad  ways. It is only when I leave Chennai and Tamilnadu that I actually realize the impact has made. So, even in the face of increasing pressure to validate our lives in the ephemeral and intangible world of ideas and imagination, there is a strong bond that holds us dreamers together.
Thank you.

and SWEAT!

Dr Anita R Ratnam
Chennai/ New York/ London/ Birmingham

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


Wonderfully written. Stuffing in so many subjects in one article is the crafting skill, which is beyond expectation.
- Gullapudi Raman Kumari (May 1, 2016)

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