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Spirituality in dance

Popular danseuse Anita Ratnam in partnership with Mark Taylor combines spiritual sense into the dance, and their presentation in the city recently was well received by the audience here, says R. UMA MAHESHWARI.



DYNAMIC DUO: Anita Ratnam and Mark Taylor. — Photo: Satish H

ANITA RATNAM (Arangham Dance Theatre) and Mark Taylor (Dance Alloy, Pittsburgh) initiated a much needed alternate performative idiom in the city through their multi cultural movement ensemble, Dust, in Hyderabad last Sunday."This is my best collaboration so far," says Anita, after seeing a successful tour of Dust through the United State, and its premier in India at Hyderabad.

The rave reviews have propelled her into working on another concept, a `prologue', again with Mark, which will be text based and will be presented soon. For Anita, Dust was just another platform for self expression, besides her various ventures in creative media - The Other Festival (an unique festival of alternative contemporary performing arts of which she is the founder); www.nartaki.com - a portal devoted to dance; and Arangham Interactive - a cultural outreach wing which explores the idea of using movement towards `lateral thinking' and emotional well being, in schools and colleges.

In a conversation, Anita and Mark shared some of their concerns and perceptions of performative traditions.

The inspiration for Dust is an early 19th century European adventurer (part anarchist) and Buddhist scholar, Alexandra David-Neel. "I think she chose us!' exclaims Anita. "During our conversations over email, Mark introduced me to her works, initially on a website. I read her books. In terms of `east-west' collaborations, I was tired of western fascination for eastern exoticism and of concepts like Panchabhuta, Agni, Rig Veda and so on. At a personal level, the demise of my father and my inability to be with him in his last moments got me thinking of the darker sides, not just `pretty' concepts. Images of dust and ash. That gave the title for this collaboration, Dust. It was providential to have found this remarkable woman -- a contemporary goddess, you may call her, ahead of her times and Mark suggested we collaborate on this." Mark says, "Alexandra David-Neel came into my life 25 years ago through her travel book, My Journey to Lhasa. In 1982, I made a dance presentation around my imagistic fantasies based on this book in college at Connecticut. When we were looking for a topic for Dust - not based in either Anita's south Indian culture, or in my western culture - I suggested Alexandra David-Neel to Anita. For, besides adventure there is a deep spiritual element in her work." Continues Mark,

"In my life I have integrated an attitude towards spirituality and that makes it easy to converse with someone like Anita from a spiritual tradition of dance. She is also looking for a chance to contemporise it with relevance to contemporary global economy. She is searching from that direction and I am searching from mine. That was a natural meeting point."

The idea of a network of presenters of contemporary arts is what Anita seeks. "This alliance we have built with Rasa is invaluable. I feel strongly about reaching out to our urban middle class and affluent kids, who are starved. They just have their TVs and gadgets and the arts is not valued enough in our society. We have to start an idea whereby an audience for the arts can be created.'' How close does she feel to Alexandra David-Neel? She replies, "I don't think I'm close enough to her as I would like to be, (but) thanks to internet I can keep in touch with her. There is a whole `underground' movement going on, which sees her as one of the most astonishing women of our times. I am looking out for her biography by two writers in Princeton, New Jersey.

As for modernity in Indian performative traditions, Anita says, "Our street and folk theatre traditions are extremely contemporary and modern; we have the sutradhar in all our theatre, making political satire. We have a great deal of modernity outside our `classical' tradition in the evolved folk, tribal art. We have to take what is modern on our terms and not allow the West to tell us what is modern and not." "

Anita is excited about her forthcoming work on `Kaala'. "In Kaala (time), I use the Tamil folk tradition of `poikal kudirai' - walking on stilts. I have portrayed Kala, Yama in a long skirt, looking radiant and beautiful with Tamil film and folk songs, which a mother sings to a child in a cradle - about life and death. I don't question, I'm just doing."

Anita feels we need more `alternate space' in India for contemporary arts. "We need small intimate spaces for contemporary work. We have just duplicated school auditoriums... We don't value our artistes - it is seen in the lighting, quality of artistes, and the green rooms. It is still a feudal structure. Artistes need to become activists, to have our views heard. We must have a voice of dissent. Corporate India can adopt the arts, artistes and make them brand ambassadors." Mark says, "looking at the advances of global culture, and reactions against global culture there is a question - is this global interchange a sustainable trajectory? Or do we need to just acknowledge each other, keeping ourselves confined within our own traditions? With TV, ease of travel and the internet we are living in totally different world of information access. In my country, so far as dance is concerned, we are seeing a collapse in funding sources and popular support. It is a disturbing part of our materialist culture. People are really concerned with what they are buying for Christmas rather than going to theatre to spend time on a performance. Dance artistes are scrambling to address this - to find a space that is relevant - it is not immediately apparent. We just need to find our own edge."

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