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Exploratory Dance Movement Workshop
- Toronto July 14 - 28, 2000

Kanchana Sastri's experience of the Exploratory Dance Movement Workshop conducted by Anita Ratnam

Jul 2000

Being a Bharatanatyam dancer, I found this workshop utilized the skills that I have learned in the classical regime and at the same time pushed my perspective beyond my own training into modern movements. The workshop with Anita Akka was well done because she understood how we, as Bharatanatyam dancers have been trained to think and what specifically would coerce our minds beyond those limits.

The boundaries we overcame included learning to move as a group, by touching, trusting, balancing, and holding each other. We started to think around us and not just within ourselves. The space suddenly held more meaning for us as we moved on the ground and used the walls and jumped to the ceiling. Our focus was no longer just the audience and our hands, but included the environment and people around us. The many exercises she led us through, taught us several concepts that we had never experienced in Bharatanatyam, mostly to think beyond solo items and group items performed by a mass of solo artists. The main concept was exploring asymmetry; shifting one's weight by pushing and pulling, and holding an off -balance pose, juxtaposed rhythms, and groups of varied numbers dancing out of sync simultaneously.

I particularly enjoyed the sessions where we explored the Indo-Canadian-ness of our personalities. They pushed my focus and concentration in telling a story about us, using our backs to the audience. The storytelling made me aware of how unclear my movements are and how slowly I must actually enunciate the mudras and gestures to convey my ideas. The inclusion of very North American movements, and discussions we held about Indo-Canadian issues also lent the workshop uniqueness apart from the traditional classes or even the modern choreographic process that we are used to.

Probably the most ironic part of this experience for us is that by doing a workshop on modern dance, we actually spoke a lot about our Indian backgrounds, and how large a part Indian culture plays in our life. In fact, much of our modern movement came from simply breaking down the so-called Indian movements, or yoga movements. I think that the thoroughness with which all the movement explorations was conducted with, made us feel like we came out with a lot of accomplishment. We only explored a handful of concepts but those concepts had a lot involved with them, and we could go so many places with them. Anita Ratnam is a dynamic lady with a lot of very cool ideas. Her style was very Indian yet very North American which appealed to me very much. I thought that the class held more meaning for me because I could relate to a lot of the concepts and discussions we had. This has not been the case in abstract works I have done previously. I appreciated having an open dialogue with Akka, and felt her to be very approachable, but strict and thus pushed myself to succeed in the new tasks we were given. I didn't always succeed but I definitely feel that I accomplished something and gained quite a lot of new vidya in just two weeks.

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