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February 1, 2017

There is only one word that springs to my mind as I write this.
FAUDA… it means CHAOS in Arabic
FAUDA… FAUDA… FAUDA…

On the sand of Chennai’s Marina Beach where students thumped chests and demanded the reinstatement of the traditional Tamizh bull racing sport of JALLIKATTU - FAUDA

On the streets of global capitals awash with women in pink hats protesting President Trump’s misogynist policies - FAUDA

In airports across the USA enraged immigrants demonstrating against the travel ban from 7 Muslim nations - FAUDA

The tragic farce of dancer Lakshmi Viswanathan first listed and then suddenly UNLISTED as a PADMA AWARD recipient on January 25th - on the eve of India’s 69th Republic Day - FAUDA on social media

And the cream of the crop
The Culture Department- Government of India celebrating the 250th birth anniversary of Carnatic music saint Tyagaraja as a FOLK and TRIBAL FESTIVAL in Maharashtra. With no link or connection to the place or spirit of the genius composer - WTF- FAUDA.

And you want me to write about DANCE.
So you think there was no FAUDA on many stages across India???

Read on…



Seeta Patel

Let me begin with the explosion on twitter and Facebook mid way through UK dancer Seeta Patel’s solo show in New Delhi last month. Billed as “UK’s best Bharatanatyam dancer,” with huge posters,  a barrage of e-mails and rehearsal videos flooding our handhelds and I Pads,  the capital city’s classical dance elite were curious to see who this Brit phenomenon was! Seeta Patel is an attractive dancer - long on talent but perhaps short on pragmatism. The presumption that very few in India understand how Bharatanatyam should be presented, programmed or lit made for an unhappy meeting of temperament masquerading for the talent. In between the choking haze and the BATCAVE like atmosphere that pervaded Shriram Centre, many in the audience fled in dismay and irritation at what Seeta attempted to perform in an evening billed as  ‘Something Old Something New.’  I was at the receiving end of phone calls, e-mails and dancers aghast at what they had just seen. Seems that Seeta’s guru - the brilliant and temperamental Mavin Khoo - did not give her the basic handbook on what to perform for Indian audiences.  For now, Seeta leaves a storm of FAUDA in her trail.

The Delhi organizers and British dancers who heralded her India presence have been left with egg on their faces. Seeta Patel, who danced BN wearing a frock-like ensemble in London can perhaps keep her shenanigans to her Brit fans and UK audiences. Or maybe she could consider applying to an ARTS BIENNALE where anything other than classical dance is accepted. At the spectacular KOCHI BIENNALE, contemporary dancer Padmini Chettur has an installation video of her latest group choreography inspired by MOHAMANA – yes, that very same iconic Bhairavi varnam! 


Vaibhav Arekar

Praveen Kumar

Vishal Krishna
Pics: Thanthoni

As always, the Madras Music Academy dance festival proved its class in the early part of January. Excellent crowds and mostly good programming drew appreciative audiences to the spacious auditorium. Now that it is established that the annual festival dance roster will always feature Rama Vaidyanathan, Malavika Sarukkai, Sujata Mohapatra, Nrityagram and Alarmel  Valli (her mother’s ill health forced Valli to withdraw from all shows), there should be something more that these divas should deliver. They should be working on creating a world premiere piece… 15 minutes long for the Academy instead of repeating the same fare year after year. The morning shows offered far more interesting talent - Reddi Lakshmi in Kuchipudi (bouncy, confident and exuberant), Dakshina Vaidyanathan (over prettified but charming), Jai Quehaeni (elegant and restful), Renjith and Vijna, Harinie Jeevitha (a tad filmy but talented).

It was however, the season for male dancers to outshine their female colleagues. Vaibhav Arekar, Vishal Krishna, Praveen Kumar, Chris Guruswamy, A. Lakshman and Srikant Natarajan (his wife Ashwathy deserves a solo slot) stormed the bastion reserved for their comely comrades. They dug deep and came up holding the diamonds in their selection of themes, choreography, maturity and intensity. All the primping, posing, leaping, twirling and lunging by the talented crop of young damsels could not withstand the deep communication that the men established with their admiring audiences who rose to their feet time and time again in appreciation. Now, if only the male dancers can pay more attention to their costuming, hair and makeup, it will mark a significant improvement in the overall aesthetic.  

Their success in Chennai also blasts holes in male chauvinistic selectors who insist that for dance the criteria needs to be “a visually pleasing artiste!” Really? Pleasing for whom? Am I seeing a cyber flooding of pink hats screaming - STOP TRYING TO GRAB OUR P….Y... WOMEN ARE NOT COMMODITIES!

While the Madras Music Academy can bask in the success of its 10 year dance festival, perhaps it is also time to think about how to humanize the classical dancer and bring him/her closer to a younger audience. Conversations, face to face encounters, open rehearsals are some of the devices that festival organizers can employ to attract younger audiences to dance performances.  Audiences for dance in India are greying… I have been saying this for a decade or more and little has been done to address the situation. 


#SMOKE AND MIRRORS... FUTURE OF INDIAN CLASSICAL DANCE

Aditi Mangaldas & Geeta Chandran

Geriatrics ruled in New Delhi’s India International Centre’s Annual Day celebrations. The culture component featured two diva dancers Geeta Chandran and Aditi Mangaldas in an open conversation and sharing titled THE FUTURE WE WANT. What could have been a fascinating session was trivialized by poor video footage that was dark and fuzzy.  That unfortunate incident wasted 20 minutes of the session which could have revealed much more in mere conversation about personal experiences, challenges with a map to the future. It was the already well known facts about their respective gurus and “plunging into the fog”, “throwing oneself into the process”, etc etc etc.  With one dancer having taught and worked with close to 300 students (Geeta) and the other with only 1 (Aditi), it would have been interesting to hear what the economic model was for both women. Aditi’s brand is growing overseas and Geeta’s within India. Programming, funding, collaborating, touring, auditioning, hiring and professional development were all important topics to plough through. There was no time but the promise was held out for further discussions in these areas. Aspects that young dancers need to know more about.


#BRIGHT SPARK CURATORS
In the present scenario of clueless bureaucrats and corrupt politicians, private initiative is rising to the fore. In the true spirit of Indian entrepreneurship, that seeks creative solutions amidst crippling resistance from status-quotists, several IIT graduates and bright-spark NRI returned South Indians have come up with a way to make young audiences engage with dance, music and theatre in my city. SOFAR concerts, WANDERING ARTISTES are only 2 of the 5 new initiatives who book an artiste - music, dance and theatre - search out private homes, gardens and spacious drawing rooms and send out direct messaging on Facebook and Twitter. Once people have signed up and responded, with their backgrounds checked, the date and time of the event is shared BUT NOT THE NAME OF THE ARTISTE. What is guaranteed is a very pleasant evening with good art and a cover charge that will pay for the artiste and accompanists. How wonderful is this?

This activity has trended during the season as a parallel December series.  At a well known coffee shop, I overheard a table exchanging whispers about an upcoming concert of the week.”Are you in?” they asked the neighbor. “Yes” came the excited answer. “I am in.”
What an interesting way of creating a WIN WIN situation for the artiste and the rasika. This takes the traditional BAITHAK style of all night long music concerts into the 21st century!


#THE MISSING LOTUS

Lakshmi Viswanathan

On the morning of January 25th, major news media, online journals and even Doordarshan Kendra, Chennai received the initial list of the PADMA awardees names. Among them was the name of senior abhinaya diva Lakshmi Viswanathan. Phone calls flowed, initial congratulations were offered and at 4pm I posted a congratulatory note on my personal Facebook Page. By 6pm the OFFICIAL LIST of names was released - shortened to only 89 names this year. Lakshmi Viswanathan’s name was not on the final list.

For me and many of Lakshmi’s admirers, this came as a shock. Every year, my journalist friends in New Delhi have unfailingly given me the dance and music awardees names hours before the actual announcement. Even they were left scrambling to change and update the information on their websites and news feeds. How can this happen? What are the forces that delete or eliminate names until the last minute? One dogged and untalented senior dancer got her name INSERTED at the last minute for a PADMA BHUSHAN a few years ago…

Lakshmi was grace and humor personified… In a delightful first person article she elaborates on the tragicomedy of awards and how they are as moody as Dame Fortune herself! The PADMA award to Lakshmi would have vindicated many aspects of the classical dance world that I have long believed in.

You don’t have to be only a teacher and a guru to earn respect.
You don’t have to bludgeon people on social media every 5 seconds with your image for validation.
You don’t have to perform daily, weekly, endlessly to become recognized.
 
C’est la vie! Will there be a next time for Lakshmi? Who knows?
Lakshmi, you have a legion of fans for whom you are the Lotus Lady herself! 

On the same topic, but on a more thoughtful note, there is a very readable article
 

#DANCE TEACHER AS BUSINESS TYCOON
With funding for the arts being crippled the world over, and India diverting valuable funds for various festivals between January and March (how else to spend the unused money before March 31st?) it seems that dance teachers will be sitting on the safest business model in the near future. Individual creativity, cross disciplinary collaborations and other avant garde projects need large funding systems. They will now be on the back burner and perhaps many organizations depending on regular annual arts funding budgets will have to close down. Post Brexit and now Trump looking with hostility towards the arts/left leaning liberals, many in the UK and USA are very nervous about their immediate futures. Meanwhile the traditional dance teacher is unperturbed.

 With students and parents willing to pay for 10 years of training, costumes, fees, arangetrams and other expenses, the INDIAN DANCE TEACHER is looking at one of the best sunrise industries across the globe. With that I mean, not only of Indian origin but anyone teaching Indian dance. Teaching from one’s home/basement/terrace/garage is so common. No rent. Minimum facilities. No sprung floor or special surface. One large or semi large room, one wooden stick and one wooden plank. Regular income. Arangetram gifts and special monetary packages. Automatic respect, touching or falling at feet. A readymade retinue of parents, students, past students and entourage as FREE LABOUR.

This is a readymade case study for HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL.

However, the much maligned dance teacher also needs his/her share of kudos. It is a tough job. Long hours, managing egos, giving of knowledge, nurturing, training... the responsibilities are endless. That is IF the teacher/guru takes on the mantle with seriousness. However, SPIC MACAY - the spectacular national organization that has taken classical arts to schools and colleges around India - moans that the standard of classical dance teaching is falling alarmingly. So now the TEACHER HAS TO BE TRAINED. Will they be humble enough to listen and learn?


#CONDOLENCES TO TYAGARAJA
There is much to look forward to and celebrate throughout 2017 and 2018.

It is the 100th birth anniversary of Balasaraswati.
It is the 1000th birth anniversary of social reformer and Vaishnavite saint Ramanuja.
It is the 250th birth anniversary of Carnatic music saint and composer Tyagaraja.

The saint’s birth place of Tiruvarur comes alive once a year in January with thousands of devotees and nearly 500 Carnatic musicians who flock to his grave and sing the 5 PANCHARATNA KRITIS in unison. Talk of a choral ensemble without rehearsal!
Now New Delhi’s Culture Department has woken up with money to spend before March 31st and the most unlikely coupling of Tyagaraja’s name with FOLK AND TRIBAL MUSIC. Pandarpur in Maharashtra is the location of the festival. No Carnatic musician has been invited. The other obtuse idea of having a festival to honor MS SUBBALAKSHMI in Manipur was mercifully shot down.

So much for the “experts” sitting in New Delhi! If this is not FAUDA, then what is?


Kamadhenu  

I received this gorgeous image of KAMADHENU via choreographer Hari Krishnan’s press release of his latest production HOLY COW(S).  A woman’s face, her bare breasts as cow udders or teats was the inspiration of a sculptor. Beautiful yes...but perhaps exploitative of a  woman’s body and her function as birth giver and nurturer. While Krishnan - a confirmed feminist - did not have this intention when choosing the image, my mind cannot but help in springing to the idea of a woman’s body through sculpture, painting and dance being exploited and dissected through centuries of patriarchal fetishes and objectification. Especially in the present context of women’s rights being destroyed by ugly policies in developed countries.

As we welcome the early buds of Spring and the magical night of SIVARATRI (Feb 24th), we also celebrate the many forms of dance and dance creation around the world. This month I share several versions of A MILLION SITAS at universities, theatre students and for festival audiences in Pondicherry and Auroville. How many ways are there to tell that timeless story?  In today’s climate of disappearing tolerance, I was told by a Mumbai presenter to change the title of the work in order to be presented in that city. Consider the riots that have forced film maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali to stop shooting his latest film PADMAVATI. A hint of a Hindu queen being associated with a Muslim ruler has sparked a huge riot.

Religion. Caste. Class. These three demons still haunt our society and creative people are walking dart boards. 

This is my India… But this is also increasingly the world we live in.
FAUDA  FAUDA  FAUDA at every turn.


#MILAPFEST HONOUR
It is with great delight that I accept the first global award for dance instituted by the MILAPFEST cultural organization in Liverpool, UK. To select my portal www.narthaki.com  and myself as the Founder-Managing Editor, speaks of a forward thinking panel for whom the world of dance does not begin and end on stage. The MILAPFEST committee has recognized the growing influence of technology, the crucial shaping of public opinion for arts and creativity beyond MSM (mainstream media) and the impact of first-person/stream of consciousness writing through this monthly column. As narthaki.com enters its 18th year in Cyberspace, I applaud my team led by Lalitha Venkat and Sumathi who have been my co-travellers since April 2000. To our global fan base for whom this portal has been a life and career changer - THANK YOU for the faith and continued support.

Let us hold on to a deep integrity within ourselves.
Feel every moment of breath that is taken.
Harken to the wind in our hearts.
Listen. Listen. Listen.

And sing along to the score of LA LA LAND. For a change an American musical has its actors singing, dancing and walking away with all the awards. Notice the opening song's nod to diversity and the power of music. Actors of colour, of various ages, sizes is a salute to America's inclusive history - a direct confrontation to the current regime’s shrill tone of intolerance. 

In all this confusion, I think that Indian classical dance has such diversity. People all over the   world... all religions, nationalities, colour and race love Indian dance. How cool is that… 


May 2017, the Chinese year of THE ROOSTER be auspicious and joyous.
May dancers  pause before "crowing " about their achievements and bludgeoning us with self congratulatory superlatives!

Until next time

Dr. Anita R Ratnam
Chennai/Mumbai/Pondicherry/Auroville/London

PS: We welcome back to the stage one of my favourite Bharatanatyam dancers Padmini Ravi of Bengaluru. After a gap of 15 years, Padmini performs in honour of her guru KJ Sarasa’s tribute evening in Chennai. Inspired by her late teacher’s DEVIL MAY CARE attitude to life, she has chosen an unusual varnam as an offering to the independent spirit of one of her favourite women.


Twitter: @aratnam
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ARthecontemporaryclassicist?ref=hl




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