A dancer/woman's journey   
Anita Ratnam's presentation in Heidelberg  
- Alexandra Romanova, Heidelberg 
e-mail: alexandra@atirupa.de   

April 8, 2006 

It is 9 years since I last worked with Anita Ratnam in 'Pratirupa' and saw her experimental dance work. On the 18th of March 2006, Anita gave a lecture-performance in Heidelberg, Germany (the biggest university town in Europe) upon her research work on the 13th century ritual practice known as 'Araiyer Sevai' (the worship of senior priests). During her expose, Anita presented a couple of her newest dance pieces. These were as follows: 
- "Conch," based on ancient dance ritual movements 
- "Pallandu," the same piece in modern Bharatanatyam style 
- "Ambika," a piece based on Lalitha Sahasranamam 
- "Mayamma," dance piece showing a reaction of a devotee facing goddess 
- And a condensed 25 minute version of her major work "Seven Graces"  


The whole presentation was a breathtaking experience for me. In her first piece, Anita showed the application of ritual hastas in the traditional method of usage. According to the movement pattern of this old style, the priest stands directly before the idol in the inner sanctum of the temple and so the dancer also moves only in one direction- towards the deity or, in this case, towards the audience and then backwards. The dancer never turns to show her back to the deity/public in this style, neither are there broad patterns of movements which cover the stage with leaps and turns. In a very different way, she presented the same item using present present-day Bharatanatyam technique, the way a dancer communicates with the audience covering the whole stage. "Ambika" was a very strong piece expressing an essence of the female aspect of God. The associations with the tantra rituals were very obvious.  

The biggest surprise was "Seven Graces," a journey of a woman. THIS DANCE IS A MILESTONE IN CONTEMPORARY INDIAN DANCE THEATRE. Anita used all the means of the Indian dance - expression. But these were applied in a new way. I liked the way Anita conveys feelings "bhava" using abstract movements. The contrast of movement and stillness, rage and serenity created a dramatic mood. Anita formed a very honest close up picture of a contemporary woman. She does not have to be ever beautiful, ever silent, ever pleasant, all bearing and endlessly adjusting. She is a human being with her limitations, moods, happy and sad moments. Her beauty lies in being herself, not trying to copy the images usually superimposed on women.  

In her Heidelberg performance, Anita Ratnam showed a journey of a dancer from her ancient roots to the present time. The impression a viewer received was that though the means of expression changed over the centuries, one remained the same. The human quest for the sense of existence and his/her place in life. Centuries ago man defined himself in the context of the Deity. Nowadays we discover this essence in ourselves, within a nature-limited human being. It was about this inner and outer world that shone through in Anita Ratnam's magnificent presentation in Heidelberg. I have seen a woman and an artist mature into a strong and confident communicator. For the audience and myself, it was a very artistic and philosophical experience. 

Alexandra Romanova was trained in ballet at the National School of Ballet in Warsaw, studied Indology at Warsaw University and was awarded scholarship to learn Bharatanatyam in India. Based in Heidelberg, she has created her own style that explores Bharatanatyam and ballet techniques.