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Ratnam teaches through move #withme Masterclass
- Saranya Devan

May 6, 2020

Space, simplicity and some sweat were the key learnings that came out of dance revolutionary, Anita Ratnam's masterclass in her #movewithme slot hosted on the Natyarambha Instagram page.

Ratnam could well have been following the philosophy of Polish theatre Guru Jerzy Grotowski, who preached simplicity to bring out the true meaning of art. For him, costumes, décor and music were of secondary importance. "By gradually eliminating whatever superfluous, we found that theatre can exist without make-up, without autonomic costume and scenography," said Grotowski.

Chennai's leading dance activist used simplicity to good measure. Locked down within the 55 year old family home in a leafy Chennai suburb and dressed in a loose t-shirt and baggy yoga pants, she demonstrated with her lithe and subtle body how the physical form can be used to simulate everyday happenings - writing, tracing and routine household chores.

Viewers across the globe were invited by Ratnam to join her for a one-hour session of dance movements on the back of simple activities. Using a single mudra, she got her informal online class to trace objects small and large; write their names in the air and on their bodies; dance with and against a popular Hindi-romantic song's lyrics; and moving to the beat of a metronome whilst animatedly chopping vegetables, making a Madras kaapi, sweeping, mopping and looking under a bed for a pet.

Adavus and aramandi were played out with the pleating, folding, unfolding, twisting and twirling of a saree to a popular Hindi pop song.

What would appear to have been in keeping with the COVID-19 theme, which has seen man being blamed for causing the virus through abuse of Mother Nature through destruction, pollution and climate change, Ratnam used popular 1961 Kannadasan Tamil film song Vantha Naal Muthal which extols the timelessness of the sky, the ocean, the breeze, the flower and the moon.

Adding depth to the class, Ratnam drew parallels of the respect for the divine feminine through 8th century Adi Shankaracharya's worship of Ambal and 20th century Aurobindo's reverence for Savitri. This divine energy was interpreted through an instrumental rendition of Shubert's Ave Maria and viewers were urged to use various forms of classical dance Namaskars to pay obeisance to worship the sacred feminine.

She plotted the relationship between North and South with Tagore's composition of a song in praise of Boshanti, the Mother of Spring and Dikishitar's Meenakshi Memutham: East and West between Andal's Maale Manivanna (Kunthalavarali) and John Lennon's Imagine, calling for the songs and music to be danced with deep feeling and intensity.

Ratnam's parting shot was captured in the advice: survive, empathize and communicate. "We need these qualities now more than ever," she said. This was indeed one Masterful Class.

Born and raised in Durban South Africa, contemporary and Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer, researcher and theatre maker. Devan is a Drama and Performance studies Honours graduate from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and is presently enrolled for a Masters in Dance at the University of Cape Town and Master of Bharatanatyam at University of Madras.

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