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November 1, 2017

Aah October!

Fireworks in the air
Settling social media ablaze
Igniting Passions


Let me say what a hectic and intense month this has been for me!

I appeared. Before diverse audiences - never in performance- but ever in PERFORMANCE MODE!

Talking before the Corporate A listers of India and Asia at the World Economic Forum, I shared the panel with the CEO of J Water Thompson and the Founder of the INDIA ART FAIR, New Delhi. Quite simply, both individuals were CLUELESS about the challenges facing our performing arts. Yes, we are in an era when Bollywood is defining almost every aspect of our imaginations and telling us what to buy, wear and feel.

However, the captains of industry needed to see and hear what I had to share.

That my state (Tamilnadu) even today is scarred by caste issues that have made the annual December festival continue for 75 years without a single paisa of state support! All because of the elitist perception of it being an upper caste art!

That the gatekeepers of the spaces and the check books look for every crevice to exploit the dancer and resist any move to professionalize the art of dance!

That the great artistes of India have succeeded DESPITE the obvious funding channels and with impressarios and patrons often from overseas.

That my contemporary performances are now subject to 28% tax on ticket prices on par with foreign artistes since contemporary dance and music is not MADE IN INDIA!

That THOUGHT LEADERS have now morphed into becoming SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS and that we dancers have to negotiate technology if not we are in trouble!

The sparse audience listened and watched while I performed a section of my new work CRY - silhouettes of women and war. There were more people outside networking and flocking to the session where film actress Deepika Padukone spoke about battling depression than in our discussion room. Still, it was an excellent opportunity to reveal that dancers from India are not “babes” waiting with hands outstretched or with pallus poised to drop!

Amidst the cool mountains of Munnar, Kerala, I spoke at a TedX event for a group of students. It was a lively session titled ROOTS AS A GLOBAL MAP. The idea was to tell the audience that one has to get lost in the woods to truly discover oneself. But it comes with fear, uncertainty and risk.

In London, I stepped onto the stage to accept the first GLOBAL INDIAN ARTS AWARD conferred by MILAPFEST, the well known cultural organization based in Liverpool, UK. Chosen for my initiative in starting, the bold decision by the MILAPFEST awards committee reflected their vision in making a choice that was truly unusual. For 18 years, Lalitha, Sumathi and I have been working and creating on the web, sharing information, discussing issues and illuminating the various facets of Indian dance across the globe. Even today, this web portal does not qualify for State funding since we don’t have a print version! But we do have a loyal global following and the outpouring of good wishes has made it so worthwhile! Thank you, Prashant and Alok Nayak, and a heartfelt NAMASTE - Hip Hip Hooray for the grit and determination that has brought us to this moment!


Harvey Weinstein

The global seismic upheaval at the sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood’s most influential producer was astonishing. Within hours of one actress who spoke of his horrendous and loathsome sex offences, the much feted and awarded hit machine was fired, stripped of his awards and banished from the industry. As more and more women continue to speak up about the patriarchal attitudes of Hollywood, Indian academia has been rocked by the list released on FACEBOOK by Singaporean national Raya Sarkar. Now referred to as the RAYA SARKAR LIST, this student of University of California Davis, compiled a list of professors and teachers in Indian Universities who have a reputation for sexual offences. For the Chennai dance world, two very important names feature in this list and it has shocked those who have seen the roster of offenders.

Now, will universities order a probe? Will they suspend or warn these individuals? Will they turn a blind eye? For now, Raya Sarkar has been the target of death threats and filthy curses. Being a foreign national living outside India will shield her from legal complications and women everywhere are praising and accusing her methods of listing the names. This list has splintered India’s feminist movement and furious discussions are happening as I write this editorial.

For years we have known of dancers being exploited in the name of performance opportunities, sexting, suggestive emails, lewd overtures - these were considered par for the course if a dancer needed TO GET AHEAD.

One young dancer went weeping to her guru after a well known scholar attacked her. She was advised to “Forget about it and not make it a big issue!” This is precisely the problem that emboldens these men to remain anonymous while continuing to prey on young women AND MEN!

One major cultural organization in Chennai has asked and received the resignation of the named individual but in most cases the expected response will be, “We will investigate the matter”. With many powerful and well known names in the list, Indian academia has been rocked to the core and the media is beginning to have a field day with the issue.

Now the major question arises from yours truly. When I posted the #METOO hash tag on my personal Facebook page early last month, many asked me if I had personally experienced sexual harassment. A single working woman - a single parent for 30 years - performing on stage and travelling around the globe alone! It does not take rocket science to get the answer. Fortunately, I have dealt with low lives with one very effective tool. A TIGHT SLAP ACROSS THE FACE - IN PUBLIC! And that was that!


Mallika Sarabhai

Leela Samson

Rama Vaidyanathan
Everyone was on tour in October. Mallika Sarabhai set the US on fire with her signature style. Leela Samson completed performances of NADI in several US cities. Rama Vaidyanathan, who is here, there and everywhere - and is the performer of the year - continued her juggernaut of workshop teaching and dancing. Geeta Chandran danced in Chile and Ananda Shankar Jayant in Lichtenstein. Prathibha Prahlad journeyed to Armenia and is now busy with another edition of her mammoth Delhi International Arts Festival.

Aditi Mangaldas found a small but fiercely loyal audience in her UK tour which featured IN-TERRUPTED once again. Astad Deboo continues to send us breathtaking images from various locations across the world. If only we can have professional photographers on our travels! Looking at these glorious images, I am green, blue and purple with envy!

While in the UK, I met with dancer/sculptor Vidya Tirunarayanan and discovered her love and success in clay creations. We spent an afternoon discussing the “choreography” of throwing clay and of moving through space in dance. Anusha Subramanyam and husband Vipul Sangoi were flush with excitement after the success of the first dance event in the suburb of Croydon. The grande dame of spectacle - Mira Kaushik - shared her immediate plans of touring India during the UK India YEAR OF CULTURE! An evocative theatre work called THE TROTH-Usne Kaha Tha will mark the end of World War 1 - 100 years ago! A love story based on the definitive Hindi novel by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri, this is described as a “physical dance work” featuring the lovely Vidya Patel who caught my eye last year at NAVADISHA 2016.

The Troth | Usne Kaha Tha

In all, the UK is finding ways and means to engage with Indian dance arts as a British phenomenon. The community has moved beyond stereotypes and has excellent folk, classical, Bollywood and contemporary dance artistes. The genius of diverting lottery funds to revive British arts 20 years ago has paid rich dividends. British Asian artistes are creating, plotting, dreaming, inventing newer ways to engage impatient audiences. Solo classical is certainly being challenged but the recent Bharatanatyam showcase of Sooraj Subramaniam left many moved and thrilled.

Between my constant travels in October, I was able to watch an ensemble work of Anitha Guha in Chennai. The packed Music Academy hall burst into frequent applause while 16 dancers executed the life of Lord Krishna through the compositions of Ambujam Krishna in KRISHNA LEELA MADHURYAM in an episodic format. Neatly coordinated, well dressed, poised, with lovely technique and stage presence, I was very impressed with what this unassuming woman has achieved through her large group productions. Wherever her dancers travel, the tickets are sold out! It was lovely dancing - pleasing to watch - with no pretensions of intellectual layering or political pandering. I enjoyed the evening immensely.


Ashish Khokar, Gajendra Panda, Ratikant Mohapatra, Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi, Kedar Mishra

The INDIA TODAY publishing group hosted a massive and well attended conclave on the future of Odisha. What was heartening to see was Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik attending the culture sessions unlike most ministers who flock to panels on industry and investment and ignore culture except to speak of “soft power”. Heading the culture panel was scholar Ashish Mohan Khokar who chaired the discussions with the prominent gurus and dance writers. Odissi dance is enjoying its golden period today. From global stages to the small villages like Tirukurungudi, the style has captured and enraptured audiences. I wonder how Rukmini Devi would react today. She dismissed the early versions of Odissi revival in the early 1950s as “some watered down version of Bharatanatyam? What is this Odissi-Phodissi?”

All gratitude to those early supporters like Charles Fabri, Mohan Khokar, Keshav Kothari, Dinanath Pathy and the pioneering gurus and dancers, without whose foresight we may not have the Odissi of today!


Guru CV Chandrasekhar

As dancers prepare to step onto stages in India, a word of caution. Please watch your step. Look down to see if there are nails, cracks on the stage, loose foot boards, anything that may harm your feet. Hearing of Guru CV Chandrasekhar’s nasty fall a few days ago has brought this issue to mind. The octogenarian tripped and fell on the stage of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan at the end of a stunning concert by his student Praveen Kumar. The entire audience just stood and stared in shock. For a full minute nobody in the audience moved and nobody breathed while a prostrate CVC lay inert. The result was blood on the forehead and a shaken senior artiste who is now recovering but the incident is a cautionary warning to all dancers. In your eagerness to smile at the audience, don’t trip, slip and hurt yourself!

As you read this, Chennai is being deluged with rain. Yes... it is raining heavily and our eyebrows are knitted in worry. We hope the reservoirs are filled to answer to the acute water shortage, the streets are clean and that the RAIN STOPS! With the last two Decembers washed and blown away with environmental disasters, we are hoping that this December is uneventful at least on the weather front!

We are almost to the end of the year and the month ahead is filled with so many engagements on our individual calendars. I travel to many cities and countries before I return to my native village of Tirukurungudi to watch the 19th revival of the annual theatre ritual KAISIKA NATAKAM enfold within the magnificent NAMBI TEMPLE. Before that we have an important engagement at the NCPA in Mumbai where PADME will be a part of the contemporary dance festival. Working with young urban bodies filled with impatience in every core is a challenge of its own! These women have now become wives and mothers and are facing the daily challenge of balancing their lives with making time for dance!

Smile everyone... the weather is cooler... we can wear our beautiful silks, our soft shawls, drape vibrant colours around us and saunter, swagger and sashay along the pathways!

Embrace yourselves and the DANCE that lives within you!

Until next time!

Dr. Anita R Ratnam
Singapore / Mumbai / Atlanta / Tirukurungudi / Madurai

Twitter: @aratnam
Facebook: Anita R Ratnam
Instagram: @anitaratnam
Blog: THE A LIST /

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