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Response to article 'Nataraja's Children'

June 18, 2006

The Editor
Sunday Indian Express

Dear Madam:

I have read with interest (and amusement) your cover story of NATARAJA's CHILDREN on Sunday June, 11, 2006. I am reminded of Hamlet's line which I will change for this comment to "The man doth protest too much, methinks." There is just too much whining in the dance world from both men and women. In my role as Artistic Director and principal choreographer of ARANGHAM, male dancers were the staple of my company for more than ten years. I have created several long and short works with almost every young male dancer in Chennai. The simple fact of the times is that today male dancers are in great demand since all the female dancer-gurus living overseas are desperate for a man stand behind them as the proverbial VISHNU, SIVA and KRISHNA or contort their bodies in quasi-Kalari, watery-Kathakali, and pale contemporary movements.

Male dancers are a hot commodity and are busier than ever. The generation of Sri Dhananjayan, Sri Narasimhachari, Guru Kelucharan and Birju Maharaj was certainly far more challenging for men than it is today when younger male dancers have their diaries booked solid. Perhaps the scene in India is not as generous to them but then several female dancers are also left out in the cold as the domestic scene veers towards star names and not talent. Not just L Narendra Kumar but almost all dancers in India- male and female- wear the multiple hats of choreographer, artistic director, stage manager, lighting director, fund raiser and performer rolled into one. Serious classical and contemporary dance exists in India DESPITE the pathetic infrastructure and indifference of the general public, the media and the state. Male dancers are certainly more committed to their profession since most of them are full time professionals and do not have spouses or families to fall back on like many women artistes. However if their state was really as pathetic and pitiable as they have stated in the article, what makes them so arrogant as to terrorize and malign many choreographers who hire them for productions? Unreported stories fill cyberspace and international telephone lines of some well known male dancers upping their fees and behaving very badly to female choreographers/presenters after signing overseas contracts.

I myself have been told by several dancers that all - yes, I mean ALL - my choreography was contributed and created only by my male dancers while they were in the company! Tall claims to make when one is supposedly on the back foot, dirt poor and ignored by the spotlight as the article makes them out to be. The fact is that apart from the normal petty jealousy, back biting and infighting that is the bane of the dance world, we rarely hear of bad behaviour regarding female dancers on international tours. From their mothers maybe, but that is another story! I myself have been embarrassed by the misdemeanours of some male dancers in my company. Today's Natarajas are fully aware that they are hot commodities with Bharatanatyam having become a global economic force of its own. It suits them to complain when necessary about female domination and display the much overused placard of poverty. Indian dance IS impoverished. We know that. But don't ask Shiamak Davar and Ashley Lobo! They will sing and dance a whole different story. From Davos to Melbourne! What is the need of the hour is not gender discrimination but unity and a cohesive face to discuss and strengthen our position within our own community. Finally, here's a message to the L Narendra Kumars, Krishna Kumars and others of your ilk. Stop whining, do the dance - and - get a life!

Anita R Ratnam
Artistic Director
Arangham Dance Theatre

This letter is Ratnam's response to the article on male dancers titled 'Nataraja's Children' by Samanth Subramanian that appeared in The New Sunday Express Magazine dated June 11, 2006. Only a part of it was featured under Letters to the Editor column dated June 18, 2006.

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