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April 1, 2011

It is Spring and that time of year when many communities celebrate a new year, the end of winter, melting of snows and HOLI colour in our lives. Narthaki.com enters its 12th year online and our site has become a kind of a beacon and an older sister to many around the cyber globe. Welcoming a brand new "sistah" to the web space is PULSECONNECTS.COM, a smart website of the UK dance magazine PULSE. Managing Editor Sanjeevini Chatterjee is determined to harness the dynamism and volatility of the web to the South Asian dance wagon. From experience I can say that all web portals need audiences, visitor feedback and vigorous communication to stay alive and dynamic. So log in, register and start talking.

The magnificent 20 day festival of India in USA - MAXIMUM INDIA at Kennedy Centre Washington DC concluded on Sunday March 20th. Enormous crowds, sold out shows and standing ovations for all our artistes was a heady cocktail for dance fans and the artistes involved. We bring you a collection of writings from many critics who watched and commented on the performances which ranged from dance, puppetry, theatre, literature and cinema. What is amazing is that after all these years of Orientalist imaginings of India and the East, the American writers are still fixated on certain terms and words to describe our dance. Our own email inbox was also busy with several Indians in the audience disappointed with Shantala Shivalingappa's Kuchupidi dance and Malavika's New York GANGA performance. Set against rapturous reviews of the American critics, the e-mails conveyed a disappointment about "poor handling of subject" and "unimaginative choreography" from such acclaimed artistes. Shantala, it seemed, was not in her element and her accompanists were off key. At least that was the report of several Kuchupidi dancers in the audience who had travelled for more than 500 miles to watch her performance. Quite clearly, what appeals to the West does not always touch a 'desi's' heart.

Millions of dollars were spent by the Governments of India and the US, over 125 artistes travelled across the oceans and not a SINGLE WRITER OR CULTURAL COMMENTATOR was sent from India to watch and report to publications in India. Few in India had heard about this magnificent festival and perhaps, except through narthaki.com, dance lovers would not have an opportunity to read about how our stellar artistes were received in the US of A. Dancer Sharmila Biswas was overwhelmed with the superb professionalism of the Kennedy Centre organizers and the wonderful way in which they restricted back stage access to the adoring fans before and after the show.

Contrast this to the utter chaos that reigns in India while the dancer tried to focus and prepare herself/himself for the performance. Organizers, friends, students, associates - all insisting on meeting and greeting before the show and creating an unsafe atmosphere of casual bonhomie. I say unsafe because this is a ripe opportunity for thieves who prowl around all auditoriums, many employed by the hall itself. Watches, cell phones, laptops, instruments all disappear if the trusting artiste leaves the green room to perform. I take a watchdog/companion all over India only to stand guard inside the green rooms to prevent theft. A prime example is when Victor Paulraj, my lighting director, fainted 30 minutes before my show in Hyderabad and while he was lying on the floor and we were rushing around trying to find a doctor and an ambulance, someone stole his cell phone from his shirt pocket! Someone from inside the Rabindra Bharati auditorium. Totally disgusting!

While reading the several reviews of the MAXIMUM INDIA, you can contrast them with the sorry state of dance writing in India. The best writers have stopped writing in disappointment with editors wanting bland, all-round praise all the time. Except for a handful of thoughtful interlocutors, the state of our cultural reporting is dismal. No surprise then that our writers are not taken seriously in the international arena. Lack of objectivity and years of being hammered by dancers, editors and the general marginalization of dance discourse has made Indian dance a shadow of its once vibrant self. Once the centre of the nationalist discourse during the Independence struggle for self rule and self affirmation, dance today has become a middle class pastime that resists all professional intervention and has become hitched to the CULTURE WAGON of NATIONALISM and IDENTITY of a pure and authentic notion of a fake homogenous Indian-ness.

Donald Hutera's sensitive take on my recent showing of HER AND BLISS in London had me smiling when he referred to me as "middle aged woman." I embrace my stage of life at this very moment and respect those who can also recognize age and experience in art. I never want to be or appear 25 ever again! Never one to shy away from controversy or criticism, I was amused when an irate audience member compared me to Lady Gaga after watching my Hyderabad performance of NEELAM. Not understanding the costume and visual design that was inspired by the Vishnu idols in temple worship, the online comment to the Decc../gtsk/barmain.gifan Chronicle review referred to the vibrant costume palette in derogatory terms. The writer does not know that I actually admire Lady Gaga and her ability to be a chameleon in today's attention deficit world. Except that NEELAM was meant to resonate with the interiority of South Indian theology and the silent moodscape of Vaishnavism with all its cultural signifiers. Viva democracy and its many avatars!

We congratulate senior critic Shanta Serbjeet Singh on being elected the Vice Chairperson of the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi. She brings to her office years of experience as well as a wealth of interdisciplinary and administrative abilities.

The eleventh NATYA DARSHAN dance conference this December, ideated by me and co-produced by Kartik Fine Arts, is called "MAD AND DIVINE- the female mystic poet saints of India and beyond"... Watch out for lots of interesting performances, talks and lectures on this topic - something very close to my heart ... (many of you know of my passion for Andal and her shadowing me through my life and dance) As conference director, I will be engaged in organizing and curating the three day event which promises to bring new perspectives on these remarkable women. Mark the dates - December 23, 24 and 25, 2011. Venue Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai.

Just as we were closing the issue for the month, comes the news that Leela Samson has been thrust with another responsibility. Chairperson of the Indian Censor Board. Now, how come a dancer gets this role? Previous chairpersons were Hrishikesh Mukhjerjee, Vijay Anand, Anupam Kher and recently Sharmila Tagore. How come Leela Samson from the world of classical dance has been chosen? The announcement came as a total surprise and with her already many commitments as the most important and influential cultural czarina in the country, can she make the time for this important portfolio as well? There are only so many hours in a day to handle SNA, South Zone CC and Kalakshetra... a case for efficient arts administrators grows stronger.

Congratulations to Leela Samson. I wrote an article many months ago that she will become an MP soon in the Rajya Sabha with at least a Padma Bhushan or a Vibushan in the near future. But I never saw the Censor "gaddi" coming.

Meanwhile, enjoy the sunshine... stretch out those frozen limbs... or seek refuge in air conditioned comfort in the sultry climes... Watch dance, buy tickets, discuss performances, make a promise not to criticize needlessly and strengthen the dance network...

Anita R Ratnam
Chennai/Kolkata/ and am not telling where else!