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October 2023

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
-  James Baldwin

All great changes are preceded by chaos.
- Deepak Chopra

Anita Ratnam

Each month, I have shared my thoughts and views on various events and issues that relate to the global world of Indian dance. This portal started as a phone directory and has grown to become so much more to a whole generation.

In spite of being a multi hyphenate artiste, I realise the enormous new energy that is surrounding us at every turn. As much as I would like to imagine that I can keep up with the rapid changes afoot in every phase of our artistic lives, it is clear that there IS a generation divide and I cannot morph or reinvent endlessly to keep pace with the blur of hyper activity. It is confusing, confounding but it is also a certainty.

What do young dancers want to hear, watch, listen and read? The foremost target is to dance - to perform - to share - to shine and to smile in the glow of the spotlight.
The opportunities seem to have exploded but is it a bubble? Is Social media giving us the ILLUSION of change like a shimmering Chimera while the ground reality is much the same?
Yet, we turn to our SM handles to verify one's identity and it IS the new calling card. Like it or not, we are now an ALGORITHM to a giant robot sitting somewhere in Silicon Valley.

There are several young Indian dancers in the USA who do not know who I am and who are not familiar with NARTHAKI! Smack on face! There goes my ego!

While I ponder on that, let me continue...


He stood tall and imposing, like a silent sentinel in the iconic pose with the raised left leg. The giant 28 foot tall statue of Siva-Nataraja, weighing 19 tonnes was transported on a giant truck from Swamimalai in Tamilnadu to be installed outside the new Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi where the G 20 Summit was held. Created by the sons of the award winning sculptor (Stapathi) Devasenapathy, it brought a smile to the face of many dancers. In which other culture is there a GOD OF DANCE? And now the most powerful world leaders entered the summit meeting in the circle of His gaze.

It was India's moment. Along with the successful launch of the Chandrayan 3 to the moon last month, India has made repeated headlines around the world. Never mind a pouting Canadian leader who acted like a spoilt child and the negative western press who doubted the capacity of the world's largest democracy. Never mind the inconvenience to New Delhi residents and traffic snafus. It was a giant diplomatic, economic, PR and cultural coup.

Of course there were numerous music and dance shows. But it did not feature the earlier model of classical soloists in a private audience for the world leaders. Folk and rural arts dominated with their infectious energy and gusto. Much of the staging was as background effect as dignitaries entered and socialised. The mandate to showcase India's SOFT POWER was mostly achieved through large numbers of artistes as spectacle.


Speaking of "Spectacle", the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) has seen the successful return of its home grown musical epic FROM CIVILISATION TO NATION. Sold out shows for all 3 weeks and the announcement of the popular ABBA hit show MAMA MIA which will follow only cements my statements made repeatedly over the last several months. Big groups, large numbers, eye catching staging - Culture as spectacular family entertainment!

This formula has seeped into the classical dance scene. Chennai's Madurai Muralidharan who is the darling of the NRI world, has mounted his newest spectacle VAYU PUTRA involving 10 different dance schools in the USA. From a conceptual point of view, it is a WIN WIN formula. 10 students, their gurus, parents are all a certain BUY IN for the shows. Ticket sales are guaranteed and house full boards inevitable. It is the uneven nature of the choreographic styles that can be commented on but when a pattern is working so well, why fuss with it?

With Navaratri season upon us, the Garba dancers are now warming up to step into the spotlight. The US Garba dance network is now fully professionalised with enthusiastic community participation from all Indian and mainstream communities. Contemporary dancer Parijat Desai has been teaching Garba inspired sessions titled DANCING IN THE ROUND.

I don't see the same pattern in other Indian folk forms. Bhangra, Kolattam, Ghoomar - are also very popular community dances but the respective communities have not come together to broaden their appeal for the next generation.

What does group dancing demand? In the folk world, the original impetus was seasonal. Harvest, weddings, births - it was a time to come together, gather and celebrate. Skill, speed and agility were not paramount as it has become with all dancing today.

I am leading to the question -


I mention here the success of the young Neo classical group from Hyderabad AAYANA DANCE COMPANY. They do not figure in any of the "serious" sabha calendars, and yet their own calendars are full with 25 shows a month! This 30 member group of 20 and 30 somethings live and work together. AND EARN A LIVING BY DANCING. NOT TEACHING. They are busy at private events and even temple festivals where large crowds gather. Nobody took them seriously 7 years ago and now they have a stellar social media presence with a considerable fan following. Their group choreographies are exacting and beautifully synchronised. Their training methodology has been developed over months and years without outside interventions. An interesting pedagogical case study for anyone interested in following emerging trends in Indian dance.

With the dance and music season upon us, there is one important factor that dancers, musicians, composers, sound recordists and choreographers must keep in mind. The issue of COPYRIGHT.
Since the lockdown and the surge in digital dance programming, there are new and fresh situations that have emerged. The paramount issue I wish to highlight is the right of an IDEA.

IF person A gives an IDEA to Person B and artiste B fleshes out the idea into a full concept of movement, music and choreography, then THE COPYRIGHT RESTS WITH PERSON B.
An IDEA, no matter how brilliant, cannot be copyrighted, neither can historical and mythological characters. In the absence of a written agreement between producer/presenter and creator, the person who has given life and creative expression to the original idea OWNS the copyright.

These issues emerge when a multi style, multi artiste production is presented. The producer/production entity may own copyright of the entire production in its sequencing and arrangement, but in the absence of a written agreement between the producer and each artiste, the ownership of the particular segment belongs to the individual artiste.

These are some of the newer and fresher challenges that appear in this area, the Indian mentality in the dance world continues to evade the nitty gritty and fine print of this minefield.

India is now in the company of OUTER SPACE COPYRIGHT. Do they have rights on the southern side of the moon where Chandrayan 2 landed? Does the USA, who was the first to land on the moon's surface, have overall copyright? While it has been decided that the MOON is for humanity and not for individual countries, the issue was discussed.


The stampede and subsequent chaos that resulted in the disaster of the mismanaged AR RAHMAN concert is a lesson for event managers and fans. The event made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

There were heartwarming reports of large crowds, standing patiently to enter the giant auditoriums in Moscow and St Petersburg for the opening of the FESTIVAL OF INDIA shows. Of course, there will be nothing like that for dance even during the Chennai season. Carnatic and Hindustani musicians still command a certain level of excitement and following in India. Fan clubs that comment endlessly on the merits of their favourite singer expanding on a certain raga in comparison to another fill X screens (formerly Twitter). We can still see long lines outside auditoriums when the December season tickets are sold. But they are only for vocal music.


Swarnamalya Ganesh

As performers become curators, it is exciting to see an event come together through a different lens. The restaurant KRAFT RETAIL became the focal point for a two day event titled TEXTURES OF TRADITIONS. Located in the heart of Chennai's Nandanam Metro station complex, classical, hereditary, folk artistes shared space with crafts people and students. The multi genre presentation struck all the right chords of the new nomenclatures of cultural ecology - Diversity - Equity- Inclusion. I saw mostly new faces with very few dancers in the mix. And rightly so. Chennai's dance community is hardly one - performers keeping to their own circles. T-O-T was created and targeted to unshackle the performing arts from the "elitism" spaces of auditoriums and class distinctions.

My own 90 minute session was a mixed bag. Provoking dancers and non-dancers to move in a restaurant space - complete with chairs and a staircase - was a challenge. To break down the exercises into bite sized instructions, to remind classical dancers NOT to sink into known vocabulary, to observe the shapes and contours of every part of their environment - and then begin to create 3 to 5 second movement phrases - this was challenging.

I often ask myself how valuable these NON ITEM TEACHING SESSIONS are. If you don't have a PRODUCT to put into your menu card, does it have any worth? Being very process driven, I can answer that question but to most Indian dancers, it is the formal technique training that is enshrined. And so, to watch the stiff and diffident participants relax and find themselves, sliding on the floor, climbing up and down the stairs with conscious movement while having fun was worthwhile.

In its egalitarian approach and mixed curation, TEXTURES OF TRADITIONS was a successful maiden event. Now to see if it can build upon this success in the coming years.


During my recent travels in the USA, I was able to attend a rehearsal for a music concert. It was at the historic TABERNACLE auditorium of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City. The giant organ was the single instrument that stood as an imposing structure bathed in brilliant colours of pink, blue and gold. Organist Richard Elliot introduced the rehearsal and proceeded to play 5 pieces from a diverse range of composers and styles. The international audience of tourists (me included) were told to wait until the end to applaud. It was a rehearsal structured as a short performance, informal and relaxed.

Open rehearsals are rewarding and revealing. Each time, we are able to revisit and build upon ideas and inspirations that emerge. Like several dance and music companies do in North America and elsewhere, the Indian dance eco system needs to realise the value of this model. These rehearsal sessions are valuable to invite discussion and always to make the dance work grow and mature.

When I was invited to watch Bharatanatyam dancer Kavya Muralidharan and her ensemble before the premiere of her new production, I walked into a room where all the dancers and the musical team were all in their 20s!

However, I wish these young artistes could pay a little more attention to the pacing and emotional arc of each segment. Beyond the expected speed, agility and good technique that were evident, the need of a Third Eye as Observer/Director becomes more and more evident. This is a note not just for Kavya, whose career track is on the rise, but for all emerging dancer/choreographers.

Back in my former home town - New York City - there was a buzz about the recently concluded ERASING BORDERS dance festival and the upcoming FALL FOR DANCE festival. In spite of the inclement weather, the offline shows for the EB festival were houseful and the digital dance festival was also very well received.

Bijayini Satpathy has been chosen to receive the prestigious DANCE MAGAZINE award and tickets for her City Centre performance were already sold out.

Malavika Sarukkai addressed the New York Public Library audience in the Dr Sunil Kothari lecture series initiated and sponsored by Rajika Puri.

Outside New York, dance premieres continue.
Sharmila Biswas's choreography on Anuradha Nehru's Kuchipudi ensemble was a big success.

Rama Vaidyanathan begins her US tour soon after the passing of her legendary mother-in-law Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan.

Which reinforces my statement that the USA continues to be the most valuable market for Indian dance. However, it seems to be totally lopsided. It is US money, presenters, performances and workshops that pay for entire lifestyles of many India based dancers and musicians. And yet the snobbery and thinly veiled derision against ‘NRI' dancers persists in India.

While I do see increased confidence among so many performers in North America, the truth of the matter is that there are simply not enough performance opportunities for young dancers here. Unless there are many more festivals that are curated with the North American dancer at the forefront, the lopsided attention paid to India based dancers will continue and this will dishearten the US dancer.

It is high time that instead of waiting to be invited to join the powerful table of gatekeepers, that this generation create their own table to be able to define themselves through their art and personalities. Create a fresh space and invite others who share your view of art and performance.

Saroja Vaidyanathan
Saroja Vaidyanathan

Just days after the passing of 86 year of Bharatanatyam guru Saroja Vaidyanathan in New Delhi, there was an Instagram post of her gently dancing with her arms while lying prone on a hospital bed. Daughter-in-law Rama Vaidyanathan had posted it on her page and the response was phenomenal. 2000,000 views and counting. The enormous outpouring of love and affection from her students around the world was a glowing example of Saroja Akka's impact and contribution to thousands of lives.

This year marks the start of 50 years of Ganesha Natyalaya, the dance academy that she founded. Her indomitable spirit, unputdownable ebullience and immense love of dance distinguished her from her peers.

As we continue to bid adieu to more and more of our dance elders, I feel as if the protective umbrella above the heads of my generation is being pushed aside. Will we have to assume this position in the next decade? Are we ready and do we have the faith and courage to support and encourage a global audience of dance students?

Anita Ratnam with Wesley and Kiran Rajagopalan
With Wesley and Kiran Rajagopalan

The final day of September found me in the picturesque town of St Louis, Missouri to celebrate the wedding reception of dancer Kiran Rajagopalan and his partner of 15 years, Wesley aka Nico. I met them at a chocolate bistro in New York, soon after Kiran had returned to the US from India. I am delighted for this wonderful couple and wish more of you find the partner of your dreams.

After all, dance can be your shadow, your inspiration, your life force and your passion. But to live your LIFE to the fullest potential, you need a partner. Someone who will be your touchstone, your punching bag, your hug pillow and your conscience keeper.

Find love and celebrate the festival season. Feel the force of the divine feminine wash over you.

Dipankar Mukherjee
Dipankar Mukherjee

As I was winding down my thoughts, news shines through from Minneapolis, USA. My good friend and fellow dreamer, theatre maker Dipankar Mukherjee has been chosen to receive the prestigious Mcknight Foundation's Distinguished Artist Award grant of $100,000. The co-founder of Pangea World Theatre who focusses on artistes and writings of colour, Dipankar is overseeing a brand new theatre space where, in his own words, "We can stop being treated like children and step into the fullness of our potential as storytellers". Bravo!

I am looking forward to enjoying New York City and watching as much dance as possible! The city and suburbs are under a severe flood watch with non-stop rain, but nothing dampens the spirit of the Big Apple.

Until next time,

Anita R Ratnam
NYC / Chennai / Mumbai / Hyderabad

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