November 1, 2018
Do not be daunted
By the enormity
Of the world's grief
Do justly, now
Love, mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now
You are not obligated
To complete the work
but neither are you free
To abandon it.
- THE TALMUD
As this newsletter drops into your INBOX, the debate about the world's most famous hashtag rages on in India.
I will begin by getting some of the dance events out of the way so I can focus on the most crucial issue that is hitting the performing arts scene in India.
Can we talk about the performances and events of this past month?
I don't want to linger upon the endless DEVI and DURGA/GODDESS productions to sync with Navaratri and Durga Puja. With glaring, blood shot eyes, MA DURGA killed demons with her pitchfork, trishul and various weapons via dancers who stomped on stages across the world.
Bragha Bessel impressed in her modest offering of an entire MARGAM in Chennai. Many young dancers said they were "inspired" by her abhinaya.
Mythili Prakash moved audiences in Wesleyan University, Connecticut. Many spoke of her "special spark".
Mythili has also written about her #METOO experience on her Facebook Page.
Vidhya Subramanian received a standing ovation in Toronto for her STILL I RISE feminist solo. She too has written about her memory of #METOO.
Rajika Puri curated and presented a showcase of 4 dance artistes at ASIA SOCIETY, New York. Hari Krishnan, Parul Shah, Sheetal Gandhi and Kuldeep Singh shared an evening to illuminate their works that draw from classical roots but have journeyed in very different directions. The house full evening drew standing ovations from the audience.
Indira Kadambi has issued a stern warning to those lazy dancers who demand recorded music to the pieces they learn. "Forget it", she says. "Save money and pay for your own recording. You don't get to use my recorded repertoire." You go, girl! Her Facebook essay on exploitation of sabhas took the #METOO issue beyond sexual abuse.
Vikram Iyengar of PICKLE FACTORY, Kolkata, has initiated PICKLE FACTORY PRELUDES around performance, curation, politics and embodied experience.
GATI, New Delhi, has launched a programme called INDENT to nurture writing in dance and across various creative disciplines. I wish they would invite classical dancers to share their experiences. The GATI contemporary dance optic seems veered towards a western derivative model that is funded by the cultural agencies of Germany, Sweden, Netherlands and France. If that is not political, then what is?
Mallika Sarabhai unveiled the fantastic new avatar of her theatre complex NATARANI with state of the art technology merging with ecology. Rapturous reviews and responses have poured in for her vision and leadership.
October 30th marked the 19th death anniversary of Bharatanatyam guru Kitappa Pillai. It was marked by dance performances at the PALACE THEATRE in Tanjavur. One of his oldest students, Joe Daly from New York City was featured in the evening line up.
Srinidhi Chidambaram ideates yet another interesting smorgasbord of ideas and sessions at ANEKA, the 38th Natya Kala Conference later this year. A plethora of new and younger voices will be heard, artistes forging new pathways, sessions on CASTE, PRIVILEGE AND GENDER and COPYRIGHT LAWS FOR DANCE are just some of the topics that will be discussed. A refreshing roster of never before seen or heard names are being featured. With the hysteria in the dance and music scene, Srinidhi's keynote address and her thoughts about the #METOOINDIA movement will be listened to closely.
Kennedy Centre, DC, hosts two Bharatanatyam ensembles back to back - Malavika Sarukkai's THARI and Ragamala Dance Company's latest WALKING ON WATER.
Wait for many exciting events to unfold over the next 4 months.
In 2006 African American Tarana Burke gave a name to the epidemic of sexual harassment of women in USA and Hollywood actresses Alyssa Milano and Ashley Judd made the clarion call in 2016.
A full two years later, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta lit the DESI FIRE by gathering the courage to name politically connected Marathi actor Nana Patekar as a sexual offender.
And then another woman in Chennai, playback singer Chinmayi accused Tamil lyricist and poet Vairamuthu of deviant behaviour.
#METOOINDIA was born. The baby emerged - kicking and screaming - drawing all the fury and ire of generations and centuries of silent abuse by the powerful against the powerless.
Surprisingly and certainly admirably, Chennai performing artistes took the lead and began murmuring about actors, singers, musicians, magazine editors of perverse behaviour. Social media started carrying the voices of the abused and hurt, young women (mostly) who had carried more than a decade of shame and guilt about incidents with known and trusted seniors.
Some recalled incidents; others shared screen shots of debased language from respected elders.
"Why now?" That was the question on the lips of Patriarchy.
"Why are these women crying wolf now?"
"Why did they not come out earlier," demanded a disbeliever.
WHY NOT NOW? WHY NOT SPEAK NOW OF THE ABUSE AND HURT?
IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?
10 or 20 years ago, would mainstream media have listened to these frightened voices?
Would national newspapers or television have given any of these women time or space to speak?
Would families and gurus have allowed this sharing? They would have mostly silenced the victims and asked them to "FORGET IT". Or worse, "IT HAPPENS. LIVE WITH IT!"
And for those privileged dancers, who are busy dissing the movement with immature comments like #MENEVER, shut up if you disagree but don't dilute this momentum. Women against women is the age old mantra that patriarchy has depended on. PHULEESE... step aside.
So let us listen as we watch real life theatre of the powerful being exposed and the once "respected" individuals being dethroned.
Chitraveena Ravikiran, celebrated musician and national awardee, has been accused of lewd comments, many of which have been reproduced on Facebook via phone capture. His legion of fans is busy creating overnight social media accounts to combat these allegations by a full attack on those who have named him.
Dance mridangist Kartikeyan has cancelled his numerous season concerts and deleted his FACEBOOK account. Bharatanatyam dancer Vidhya Subramanian was one of the many artistes who had engaged him for the season. She promptly cancelled all his bookings when the news broke.
Editor of SRUTI magazine V Ramnarayan, stage actor TM Karthik, Carnatic vocalist O.S. Thyagarajan and celebrated musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt have also been named as offenders.
In the USA, the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana committee, led by the "revered" V.V. Sundaram was shocked to receive an open letter by the students and their parents labelling the teaching atmosphere of the celebrated annual Spring Intensive as "DECIDEDLY UNSAFE". In a tepid and defensive response, Mr. Sundaram has posted a long statement claiming unstinting support to artistes of all ages and backgrounds and of having funded and supported many original works.
So, does that mean that you can feed and fund someone and then ignore the abuse later?
The Chennai Public Hearing on October 21st was kickstarted by the social activist collective called EK POTLI RET KI. Leading the charge was Radhika Ganesh, younger sister of dancer Swarnamalya Ganesh who took to social media and called out name after name in her successive posts. For those who doubt Swarnamalya's war cry, I say... The battle cry cannot be timid. It needs to rouse us all from a slumber of centuries. It MUST be loud and deafening. We need to open our eyes!
At the hearing, musician T.M. Krishna flatly stated that "The Guru Sishya relationship is the most corrupt and polluted space in dance and music!" Of course, this kind of grandstanding got his social media fans aroused to a standing cyber ovation and numerous comments followed about "thuggish behaviour" from divas and gurus etc.
There are a series of questions and thoughts that have emerged from this #METOOINDIA wave.
Not every guru is corrupt and not every student is dropping her/his pallu or pants.
It is the power structure and the safety valve of "divine and sacred art" that has to be dismantled.
Classical dance and music systems are open to exactly this kind of misadventures and malpractice.
Can we focus on the hidden systems of social hierarchy in this paradigm that are aiding and abetting this kind of violation?
While the Hindustani music and dance circles are deafening in their silence, it is well known that many Kathak, Odissi and Kuchipudi gurus demanded that their feet be "pressed' by the dancer after a performance! Who knows what happened between feet and hands later?
Radio silence from the North!
While the Indian dance community has remained mostly silent on this issue, the Carnatic musicians joined hands to create a list of 200 artistes who signed a petition of ZERO TOLERANCE. No such coming together in the dance sphere yet. ABHAI, the Chennai based national dance organization, was conspicuous in their silence but are holding a talk by a retired judge, Justice Chandru, later this week.
Why such a muted response from the dance community? Is it because the culture of classical dance has NORMALISED and INTERNALISED these kinds of sexual overtures?
When senior dancers brag about their skill at seduction, when women are seen fawning over Sabha secretaries, organisers and patrons by bending lower, showing cleavage, laughing a bit too loudly, feigning modesty and allowing their low cut cholis to be stroked in public, it sends a very wrong message to the younger generation.
How can talent and hard work win over this kind of behaviour where "CO-OPERATION" is both suggested and demanded to get ahead?
Sabhas, cultural organisations, presenters need to declare these spaces as SAFE and ban any of the accused from performing, speaking or presenting at festivals, conferences or any event.
How do we begin to structure some guidelines of behaviour and flag moments of vulnerability?
Read Radhika Ganesh's article on these points.
Also read Ananda Shankar Jayant's article on the topic.
The larger question is...
Can the Music Academy strip Ravikiran of the Sangeeta Kalanidhi title which is the most celebrated in Carnatic Music?
Will SPIC MACAY, the largest national organisation that promotes classical music and dance across India, take heed and ban any of the offenders from their roster of touring artistes?
What about diaspora presenters like SILICON VALLEY ANDHRA who claim that other than scholar Pappu Venugopala Rao (who stepped down from the Music Academy Committee after his name appeared on the academia RAYA LIST) there are no experts in dance????? He is still being invited by the NRI Andhra Boys Club! This, in spite of a brave group of young men and women who have petitioned the organisation to disinvite him! They will certainly lose performance slots soon.
Can the Sangeet Natak Akademi who pays the salaries to Kathak Kendra, Kalakshetra and 2 other national institutions adopt a mandate to sack sexual offenders? Are they turning a blind eye to the pathetic behaviour of some gurus?
How about another well known organiser in Kerala? Who will tell him "TIMESUP?
What about the continuing stories in Chennai's Kalakshetra, where I hear of some students who have been asked for certain favours before being cast in the dance productions? Is the Director going to take note of this malaise? Will she allow the students to speak up?
While the #METOOINDIA movement is not about only naming and shaming, this is certainly the first step to discourage those sleazy offenders who have gotten away with intimidating, molesting, pawing and threatening dancers for way too long.
#METOOINDIA THE NEXT STEP
Can we address this situation outside the courts?
Can the dance community come together to decide that we will not hire or work with anyone who is accused or who behaves inappropriately with a student at any time during rehearsals or on tour?
Can we tell students that when senior gurus or teachers invite them for a "HUG' in the name of behaving "LIKE A FATHER", that they have the right to just say Namaste and retreat?
Can we all make a promise to LISTEN to anyone who has a painful story to tell?
What are our rights?
#METOO AND MALE DANCERS
Two male Bharatanatyam dancers had the long and rather stressful GENDER REASSIGNMENT- Maalika (Singapore) and Mesma Belsare (USA). They continue their dance careers and I take a moment to salute their courage!
If only some of the male dancers who talk to me in private can speak via social media or to whoever will listen about who and when they were harassed by certain individuals, it will help them in the current atmosphere of support and camaraderie. However, many of them have not even told their parents who are busy searching for suitable brides!!!!!
I realise this is a very personal and painful decision but I watch so many talented artists who seem to have this "secret" eating away at them while becoming easy prey for unscrupulous predators.
I just want to say that "WE ARE HERE TO LISTEN AND SUPPORT."
As I write the following updates have been received.
MADRAS MUSIC ACADEMY has dropped 7 musicians from the December season roster. Among them is the award winning SANGEETA KALANIDHI CHITRAVEENA RAVIKIRAN, whose army of followers is now mounting a huge push back with overnight Facebook profiles and antagonistic messages posted on dancer Swarnamalya Ganesh's posts.
On the heels of the Music Academy's bold announcement, Mumbai's historic Shanmukhananda Sangeeta Sabha has announced that IT WILL NOT BAN any of the alleged offenders from their festival line up. "NOT UNTIL THEY ARE PROVEN GUILTY", is the phrase contained in their statement! So, they will continue to invite musicians who have behaved indecently to young women! Wah Wah! Imagine as these sleazy men sing about Lord Rama and Krishna while dreaming up uglier methods of stalking and harassment!
V Ramnarayan is no longer the editor of SRUTI, the national magazine of music and dance.
Theatre actor TM Karthik has publicly apologised for his behaviour.
Film lyricist Vairamuthu has checked into a hospital! (how convenient!) perhaps to evade the onslaught against him, although Tamil media has kept silent about his misdemeanours with his powerful political connections.
The FEDERATION OF SABHAS in Chennai has convened a meeting of all Sabha secretaries and some important names like Sudha Raghunathan to discuss this ongoing issue. It has constituted a panel of experts from music, psychiatry and legal disciplines to look into every allegation that is brought to their notice. Extreme care and confidentiality has been assured. To see the conservative sabhas in Chennai take the lead is a welcome step. They have set up an independent ICC - an Internal Complaints Committee to address any kind of inappropriate behaviour from the music and dance community.
Sudha Raghunathan who is on the newly constituted committee has Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan playing mridangam for many of her concerts. Will she continue to retain his services or...?
Years ago, some activists like Chandralekha refused to accept money from tobacco and alcohol companies. Yet it was the tobacco division of ITC that funded the now celebrated SANGEET RESEARCH ACADEMY in Kolkata.
Where does the money for the arts come from? Real Estate, Mining, Banking - all tainted with black money, corruption and even violence.
Tobacco and alcohol seem almost acceptable in the light of how the patronage is flowing and how favours and artistes are being promoted and encouraged.
When we read that some prominent individuals who are generous patrons of the arts are now under a cloud for suspected idol theft and smuggling the mind races for answers but is stopped by a cascade of conflicting questions.
I acknowledge here that I have been extremely fortunate to have been taught by wonderful teachers, male and female, and have never ever experienced any of the horrific moments described by many young men and women. However, as a teenager, my grandmother would sit in the room while the make-up man applied my make-up! Now I know why!
When an 80 year old Chennai make-up artiste is accused of being a pervert while applying pancake on young girls, I have to believe that there is no smoke without fire!
The answers are not easy and my mind is saturated with more puzzles to solve.
But THIS is the moment. It is upon us. The #METOOINDIA movement cannot be dismissed or ignored and it is up to us to stand up, step up and speak up.
The next generation is watching.
Facing me this month is the 20th anniversary of the REVIVAL PERFORMANCE OF KAISIKA NATAKAM. What a journey this has been for me since 1995. It took 3 years to locate, translate and reframe the 15th century text and premiere the first restaged event in 1999. Performed within the main walls of the AZHAGIYA NAMBI VISHNU Temple in Thirukurungudi, this annual event now draws over 2500 devotees from across India and beyond.
Performing in the prelude event is Priti Patel and her Manipuri ensemble. For the simple village residents, this annual all night event has exposed them to every classical Indian dance style.
It has been a genuine privilege to interact and work alongside Professor S Ramanujam whose presence will be sorely missed.
#NEO BHARATAM IN OZ
Thank you for reading.
Have a peaceful and hopeful Diwali.
I will return soon with the final newsletter of the year.
Dr. Anita R Ratnam
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in
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