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January 1, 2012

Happy New Year to all who read this.

What a tremendous season we had in Madras last month. Crowds thronged sabhas, new spaces, art galleries, malls for flash mob dance events and cafes… there were people everywhere and the common mantra was – We want excellence, artistry, aesthetics and emotion in a single evening! Even if you are famous, idolized, iconic and gorgeous, WE WANT TO BE SHAKEN AND STIRRED! NO LAZY DANCING PLEASE! With leisure time becoming more and more precious, it is now mandated that all dancers need to deliver a 360 degree experience for their audiences. And only a few understand this template.

 ANDAL- ANDAL was a mega success. Standing room only crowds, my grandmother in the first row weeping for my departed mother, my relatives in full attendance, aging guru Adyar K Lakshman in his special seat and the auditorium applauding and sniffing in turns with delight and emotion as Pritha and I danced our hearts out. Victor and Rex delivered their expected magic with the lighting and set design and our year-long effort culminated in a capacity crowd of delighted rasikas. Thank you all. (Amma, I fulfilled my promise to you to bring Pritha back to dance, even if it was for a single performance!)
 
The dance conclave MAD AND DIVINE WOMEN was also a stunning success. Guests and dancers from across the world gathered in the crowded Mylapore sabha for three days of undiluted discussions and dancing from excellent artistes and speakers. What stays in my mind are many frames and flashes… Shanta  Serbjeet Singh’s brilliant keynote address followed by Dr. Archana Venkatesan’s crisp new take on the eternal Andal story; Rajashree Shirke’s superb Katha-Kathakar style of telling Marathi saint poetess Kanhopatra’s story (her performance  was the find of the conclave); Malavika’s soulful search for Andal in her premiere that was embellished by Vasudha Ravi’s totally brilliant singing; elder sister Priya Sarukkai’s intelligent presentation of sensual translations of Andal’s later poetry; Mythili Prakash’s brave attempt at understanding Akka Mahadevi,  Narthaki Natraj’s lovely opening item - Vinayaka Agaval, Zakir Hussain’s  fervent, though overdone Vaishnava ‘bhakti’,  contemporary images from Maddhu Nattraj’s tentative but sophisticated understanding of Kannada Saiva poets and Rama Vaidyanathan’s electrifying finale on Lal Ded.

And there was more... Uma, a real life Naga baba who lives near the Ganga sharing her experiences of surrendering to the spiritual energy within an all male sect of fierce sadhus, Vyjayantimala’s  moist eyes  when she was honoured with the sacred garland from Andal’s temple for her lifetime achievement award and her impromptu performance of a verse on Krishna’s fertile imagination. She did so much with so little, tucking her red silk sari and using her gorgeous hands to great effect. Chitra Visweswaran distilling Mirabai’s final song with meditative poise and many more... so much more...

For those who did not live up to the expectations through presentations and performances, the others more than made up for their lapses. A big, big thank you to Mr. Sabaretnam of Kartik Fine Arts and his capable team, who gave me and my group a free hand to imagine, ideate and execute this landmark conference. This newsletter will give you many, many images of the elegant set and the myriad moods and moments of the three magical days.

Having moved away from being a presenter for five years, it was refreshing to return to that space but the effort required in PR and Marketing has doubled. Media is increasingly irritated with dance related matters and atrocious mistakes continue to be made in reporting even the simplest of events. At a book launch, organized by me for mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik where Anil Srinivasan illuminated his words through the piano, the society pages reported me as a stylish “observer” and Anil as a “guest” to the event! Dancers are also to blame for the vanishing space given to any kind of discourse in media and THE HINDU scrapped their special DANCE AND MUSIC SUPPLEMENT twice a week that many eagerly awaited.

Next December, the conference theme that I will convene will be EPIC WOMEN and the title lends itself to many possibilities. From Shakespeare to Greece, India and Japan, I am hoping to share the iconic women in myth, history and contemporary society in another three day event. Mark the dates – December 21, 22 and 23, 2012.

Experimental works are drawing more and more people who are reluctant to watch solo classical dance. Chandralekha’s gorgeous home is now an alternate space for experimental work in what is simply called SPACES on the beach.  In the world of classical dance, Alarmel Valli continues unabated, her shows selling out repeatedly. Malavika attracts an international and diverse audience of groupies wherever she performs, Priyadarsini and Rama are surely gaining ground as the next stars of the Bharatanatyam genre and young Mythili Prakash is already in the senior category with prestigious gigs. Meanwhile, Aditi Mangaldas has finally got an international agent to represent her superb artistry. What finesse and what stamina! Her shows are slick, excellent and finely rehearsed.

I can go on and on... but the beaches and temples are calling, I am sending you this message from the divine environs of Angkor Wat, where I am reminded of the greatness of India and the reach of the Ramayana and other legends. My kids beckon and this laptop ‘nritta’ must end.

Enjoy your time with those you love… do what makes you smile and promise to spend the new year without resolutions but with resolve.

Amidst foot massages and temple darshans, I send smiles and infinite gratitude for being a dancer in this lifetime.

Happy 2012!  We have an extra day to live this year… to dance, sing, read, walk, sleep, dream or just be happy! 

Anita R Ratnam
Cambodia/Thailand/Chennai/Mumbai/Delhi