New themes, new forms  
by V V Ramani, Chennai 
April 11, 2003 

The dance scenario at present demands the dancers to stretch their limits and look at new themes, new forms, novel presentations and even old wine to be given in fancy containers. The outcome therefore is the emergence of a whole new body of ideas and forms. Themes unheard of earlier are being presented. The fact that a more receptive, open-minded rasika is willing to watch these experiments provide energy levels to the artiste. 

Anita Ratnam is one such dancer who is constantly trying out new idioms with boldness and conviction. In the context of the Indian psyche, it calls for a rare courage to create a work on the theme of death. Anita’s latest work ‘Vaitharani’ looks at the subject of death from the point of view of Hindu philosophy of looking at death beyond the mere physical. 

The first segment ‘Marali’ which means the God of Death, brings out varied aspects on the subject in a folk tradition of story telling. Revathi Sankaran as the storyteller unfolds the mysteries of the beginnings, the vacuum therein, the emergence of Ashta Digbalakas or Lords of the 8 directions governing various aspects of life. One of them is Marali, or Yama, the God of Death, whose presence is a part of life. The visual imagery for this story is captured by a group of young dancers. The characteristics of the Lord of each direction, is portrayed with kama or union of male female attaining prominence over others, lending to transformations in evolution. A combination of sollukattus and folk rhythms bring out the ideas of the time cycle effectively. Revathi Sankaran’s use of appropriate songs from old Tamil film hits adds a lighter vein to the narrative.  

Yama is portrayed as larger than life in the folk tradition, by the actor on stilts. His appearance at various segments of the narrative, suggesting the looming presence of the shadow of death in everyone’s life adds interesting dimensions to the choreography. 


The final segment of dancers forming a chain to lead Revathi to Yama is an aesthetic visual climax. The costumes designed by Joy in earthy tones, brings out the sombre moods of the theme beautifully. 

In the second part, Anita highlights the journey of the soul after it departs from the physical form. The use of white ropes as props with the dancer’s movements enveloping and unravelling the rope makes a powerful visual image of the soul’s freedom from bondage. The repetitive sounds of a sloka as a musical score has strong impact, but is stretched a trifle too long to make the sounds monotonous. The eerie sounds in the background score builds up the mood leading us to the river of blood. A long train of red fabric painted with skulls, bone and hair and powerful dance movements with it, brings out the eeriness with stunning effect, leaving a strong visual impact on the viewer.  

Anita’s visual interpretation using excellent lights, costumes and props makes this production an enriching experience. The abrupt ending after the final scene of crossing the river creates a void, a feeling of something left unfinished. 

V V Ramani is a freelance writer, artist, set and costume designer.