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September 19, 2011

Amidst a flurry of preparations for the Commonwealth Poetry Showcase, I find myself teary eyed by the devastating imagery of women’s voices from Nigeria –the country designated to me for a performance.

The raw and ravaged images cascade forth - baby brides, bloodied diapers, a polygamous moon and the Mahapralaya of the final horizon. Nobel  Laureate Wole Soyinka and his colleagues have given voice to this African country’s beauty and squalor. For those of us who know of Nigeria as the source of email scams, the imaginative words and determination of Soyinka, Achebe and others comes as a gorgeous gift.

I have just completed a lengthy article on the valid presence of contemporary Indian dance for a publication. While writing the piece, I was torn between the struggle of the young artistic dance makers and their constant collision with the smug condescension of the classical community who conveniently call their work “contemporary.” While India’s modern dance remains an urban activity, pushed into a marginal hole for the elitists who are impatient with the linearity and posturing of classical dance today, the new dance makers are also guilty of convoluted hyperbole and twisted tongues in their description of their work. Just read through some of the new vocabulary that precedes these contemporary dances and you will be left confused with the gratuitous and self indulgent allusions that never manifest on stage. It is a tough call to make but my vote is for contemporary dance and its further development in India.

With this statement, I also welcome two dance festivals INTERFACE by Sapphire /Sudarshan in Kolkata and IGNITE by Gati/Anusha in New Delhi. Both events are finally focusing exclusively on assessing contemporary dance in India and the diaspora.  One is happening as I write this and another in November. The points of concern as those that were raised by PULSE editor in London, Sanjeevini Dutta. After the third session of Unlocking Creativity (UC3), she has felt that the signature markers for South Asian/Indian contemporary dance are yet to evolve.  Unlike Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Theatre which has synthesized Chinese philosophy into a seamless blurring of their modern performances, South Asian contemporary dance is still too enamoured with the western model that is easily available for training. However, with most Indian dancers trained for longer periods in their classical dance forms, this hurried modern training never quite ‘digests’ easily into a complete and convincing vocabulary. Only time will tell.

Until then, I congratulate Anusha, Sudarshan and all those bright men and women who continue despite the state ignoring them while western presenters have finally woken up to the potential excitement and thrill of modern India through the works of Daksha Sheth, Tanusree Shankar, Sharmila Biswas (neo classical) and Veenapani Chawla.  For the first time, the classical dance component with Malavika Sarukkai, Madhavi Mudgal and Alarmel Valli find themselves in the minority.

Congratulations to the luminous Madhavi Mudgal for the glorious tribute in the New York Times for her artistry. Bravo to all our superb dancers  and actors who work tirelessly to perfect their craft and remind others that it is these soft skills that distinguish us in a world of machine and raw power.

Enjoy… sweat… drink.. .eat… laugh… DANCE

Dr. Anita R Ratnam
Chennai/ Madurai/ Mumbai

Twitter: @aratnam
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