True blue
- Pratima Sagar, Hyderabad

April 12, 2011

Thinker, dancer, Anita Ratnam dives into the nadirs of Hindu pantheism and rises with a realization... she dances to tell- that reality is a manifestation of celestial inspiration 'Neelam... drowning in bliss.'

An image, as surrealistic as the union of the azures of the sky and the sea, or a thought, as poetic as the union of the truths of the celestial and the earthly, Anita in her own individualistic and understated elegance draws upon the Vishnavaite canons of enlightenment and how!

Storytelling, songs, symbols, gestures, dance, colours and more... an encrusted treatment that only strives to simplify a thought. A thought to realize divinity. The imagination of the blue hued lord who bonds with His devotee in His multi hued personas - Vishnu as Krishna and Rama, or the dazzling goddess Lakshmi, the eternal lover Radhika and the devout Andal completing the spiritual sphere of 'Neelam,' an aquatic aura created even as the danseuse fills the stage space "... drowning in bliss."

South Indian Cultural Association's arts festival this year bestows Anita's dance theatre presentation for the select and culturally active audience in Hyderabad. In fact, Anita's dance was quite a challenge for the audience to creatively participate, comprehend and keep pace with her moving images, and also relate to what they themselves knew of the religious and spiritual metaphors of Vishnu philosophy. The dancer did stimulate the sympathetic spectators who seemed to fondly take back home the enduring image of the lord in their minds as though from a temple of arts!

From the very first framework to the last, the choreography shows a progression of the conscious mind to merge into the sapphire space epitomized by the vast Vishnu- hence 'Neelam.' We see the dancer appearing in a unisex costume symbolic of the "soul" with no gender description- that which seeks the supernatural (the subtle blend of Bharatanatyam and Kathakali costume perfectly works here and Anita carries this with an exceptional grace). As this thought evolves on stage compiled in five different choreographic sequences connected in character and core, the dancer smoothly passes through the "soul" which assumes the "feminine" to unite with the "masculine" or the almighty- the ancient mirror image of Prakruti and Purusha. So does her costume, evolving into a sumptuously sensuous avatar as visualized by the classical sculptor or as imagined by the ancient poet.

The abstract dance string buoying up to the pure syllables, as though cutting the stillness of a shrine, the dancer lit up to life, like the ornamental pillared halls of a temple, where divine damsels seem to greet you into the god's own dwelling... well, this was 'Srimal- the dance of Nambi Vishnu' (Nambi Kavuthuvam), thus festooning the outer frame covering the stage space in a square - the mandala.

In 'Sri Andal- The chant of Goda,' Anita sculpts herself on a pedestal in a front corner of the stage to get into a dialogue with god! These excerpts from Nachiyar Tirumozhi has the maiden Goda challenging and conjuring up... she intones almost in frenzy until she becomes one with Him! The dancer and the light designer alluringly paint this picture of Goda Devi bathed in chiaroscuro finishing up with a stunning silhouette - the Bindu.

"Priye Charusheele the humble Krishna" these admired excerpts from Jayadeva's Gita Govinda are standardized set among Indian classical dancers with literal expressions and treatment that braces the archetypical mood of the song - the song of a lover in pangs of separation, longing for the divine union. Anita subtly surprises here. As the windy flute fills up the air, she sashays, almost in silence, slashing the excess to portray the pure poignant poem. Her arresting glace into the space rouses a a simple diagonal movement across the stage we see the dancer nearing the Rekha.

The medieval century poet Annamacharya's song of the goddess who dwells on the milky ocean "Ksheerabdi Kanyakaku" took a je ne sais quoi al twirl with the piano synthesis! An element of awe that steadily moved into smiles as the dancer and her music combined to show us a sparkling Lakshmi that makes Vishnu so complete. The dancer surges in a brilliant pink and gold, as though a lotus in its full bloom swaying on a substance like the sea (!)- the Padma Chitra.

Now, I see a dryad of a temple wall sporting a garland so long and so intimately carved over her shoulders, rhythmically flowing onto her torso and that, which seems to bind her inner self with the beyond... Anita furthers the existence of this dryad by giving her verve, movement and an emotion, to tell a story. In "Rangapura Vihara..." she becomes an envoy of the poet composer Muthuswami Dikshitar by illustrating his (poet's) imagination of the 'Valiant Rama.' With the floral garland playing in her hands like a theatrical prop, Anita dances, her expressions so vivid and fluid in framing the images of Ramayana while encompassing the stage in just one go, and her movements so lucid and flawless in drawing the epics of Dasavataras while encircling the stage in another flow- The Chakra.

I am tempted to decode the numbers of 'Neelam' at another layer. Unassumingly Anita seems to pencil in on the stage a series of select geometrical movements. Like in the sacred drawings of Yantra. Neelam, complete with the mandala, bindu, rekha, padma chitra and the chakras as a whole seem like a hallowed Yantra, that the dancer dwells in on the stage space to invoke the extraterrestrial energies - "...drowning in bliss."

Yet another facet of the production was Revathy Sankkaran's narrations that interspersed each dance sequence. In Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu, like in a traditional story telling art of Harikatha, she gave laissez-faire intros which did entertain the audience, but this reviewer thinks, Anita's coherently chiseled esoteric concepts needed no preambles which at times seemed like scissoring down the sequences which were rather at a heightened horizon.

And it goes without saying that a host of renowned music composers, vocalists and instrumentalists (Anil Srinivasan, OS Arun, KSR Aniruddha, Sasirekha, Palakkad Sriram, Sikkil Gurucharan, Subhasri, Subhiksha, Rajendran, Mahendran, Gajendran, Pradeep Chakravarthy, ghatam by BS Purushottaman among others) collaborated in making of Neelam's soundtrack so alleviating and enlightening. So did the costume and light designers (Rex, Sandhya Raman, Victor Paulraj and Mohan) who bedecked Neelam in those hues of heavens!

Pratima Sagar is a dancer, writer and sculptor.