The Goddess dances
- Ashwin Mohan
Photo: Srivatsa

January 30, 2014

Anita Ratnam presented a solo piece on Lakshmi at Alliance Francaise Bangalore on the 26th of January 2014.

Ashish Khokar introduced Anita Ratnam in his signature style. I was bracing myself for a letdown because he was saying such wonderful things about her that it seemed a bit inflated to me. In addition it was to be a solo. There are very few artistes who can take control of the entire space of a stage. Even two artistes cannot really liven up an entire stage without props. My eye searched for props, but there was nothing but a black cyclorama.

And then Anita emerged as if out of thin air. The music filled not only the space of the stage but also the whole auditorium. I immediately recognized the hand of Darbuka Siva in the music which Anita confirmed later in response to a question about the music. There were these Tamil phrases layering upon each other punctuated with chants about Lakshmi. Anita was wearing a toga designed to show her lower body, her legs draped in black merged with and emerged from the background of the cyc. The illusion was quite stunning, coupled with the music, and this created a very ethereal context right away.

Balanced and graceful, she moved through various narratives of the Goddess Lakshmi. Some I could recognize and some were quite rare legends, that I had no idea about yet.  Her grasp of the mythology was palpable. Not as a story but as an actual experience. She had lived through it and the legends lived on in her body. This bit was hard to explain; how did she imagine the role of a Goddess to such gestural detail? I wanted more; this performance was simply not going to quench my thirst for this master performer. I wasnít expecting such an intense performance. Not everyone was having such intense reactions as me, but you could say confidently that they were riveted. Nobody shifted. No one felt the urge to check facebook despite this being Bangalore.

Every detail was attended to by Anita and her team, her eyes, her makeup, her hair in a glorious braid, the colours and cut of the costume and those waving hands. Those hands were gliding effortlessly along the joints as if the tendons had no friction. I realized I wasnít even breathing as I watched her glide and move, never repeating movements as contemporary dancers are wont to do. This was a story with no repetitions. Personally, I detest repetitions in form that most dancers use. Unless it forms a pleasing pattern that leads the eye into a larger perspective, or, it is so subtle it can only be seen on repetition, why repeat a movement? Donít the viewers get credit for watching attentively and ingesting the movement the first time?

However, Anita simply sailed through the performance organically. Each movement building on another, you could say culminating on each other like fractals. The information from the first movement was alive even in the last. I had a quasi-spiritual experience. The music and the visuals were of the fine kind of aesthetic only a serious artiste can deliver. There was nothing in my memory I could compare what I was witnessing to. And when Anita exited the stage I had to fight the urge to follow her. I even embarrassed myself by saying aloud, ďDonít go.Ē The couple seated in front of me gave me amused smiles.