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Retelling the Ramayana

ANJANA RAJAN

The curtain goes up tomorrow on the Natya Kala Conference 2008. The theme — Ramayana in Performing Arts.



EVERLASTING APPEAL: The Ramayana is Asia’s living story

Sri Krishna Gana Sabha’s annual Natya Kala Conference, which began in 1981, is one of the highlights of Chennai’s December Season. It started on a promising note, endowing the dance scene with a mood of research and exploration and bringing senior and junior dancers on to a common platform of discovery. Over the years, the number of sabhas organising conferences has grown, but the Natya Kala Conference has held its own.

This year, the sabha has named as convener Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant. The theme of the Conference, on from December 17 to 23 (daily from 9.15 a.m. to 1 p.m.) is ‘Ramayana in Performing Arts.’

Even in an age of multi-tasking, it is difficult to come across a dancer as comfortable with written and spoken expression as with her art. For this reason, the conference in the past years suffered at times, as the dancers selected to convene it seemed at sea with respect to the intellectual and practical inputs required to make the exercise worthwhile for students, professionals, and interested rasikas. In this respect Ananda, a product of Kalakshetra, seems set to infuse the proceedings with fresh enthusiasm.

Intensive research

Ananda’s inclusive approach is apparent from the outset, as even the theme, she says is the outcome of intensive ‘brainstorming’ with her seniors and colleagues in the field. Ananda says it was Anita Ratnam who suggested, “Why don’t you think of Ramayana?”, an idea she says was uppermost in her mind, since it is an epic she has revisited all her life. “The Ramayana is not just an Indian epic, it’s an Asian epic. We keep returning to it for different reasons,” says Ananda. Calling it ‘the living story of India — nay, Asia,’ she notes, “The Ramayana cannot be just dance. It is poetry, art form, history, religion.” The collection of speakers she has gathered reflects how these streams of thought ‘intersect in our lives at some point.’

Tellingly illustrating this concept will be the traditional visual art forms from Andhra Pradesh that will feature in a sale outside the Sabha on all conference days. These include Cherial (scroll) and Kalamkari paintings and leather puppets by National Award-winning artisans. Participants will include singers and ritual performers such as Abhang singers from Maharashtra and Ojha Pali performers from Assam, apart from known names from the Carnatic tradition. Besides, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro from the Khmer Arts Academy, Cambodia, will speak on Ramayana in Cambodia.



BIG TASK AHEAD Ananda Shankar Jayant

‘God and the Musician’ — The Role of Divine Inspiration in Today’s Music, a session moderated by pianist and Carnatic musician Anil Srinivasan, sounds promising. A range of dance forms covering the country from Mohiniyattom to Sattriya will also be represented. The valedictory address will be by scholar Paula Richman, author of “Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia,” and “Questioning Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition” as well as “Against the Current: Sita and her Foils in Modern Tamil and Telugu Short Stories”, among others. The ancient in constant conversation with the modern could be said to be the underlying theme of the week. Epitomising this approach is the screening of “Sita Sings the Blues”, an award-winning animation film by Nina Paley of the U.S., at the Alliance Francaise on December 20, 3 p.m. Here is hoping this year’s Natya Kala Conference gets the audience it deserves but has not always managed to draw.

HIGHLIGHTS

Traditional art forms from Andhra Pradesh will be featured.

• The valedictory address will be by scholar Paula Richman.

• Ritual singers such as Abhang singers from Maharashtra and Ojha Pali performers from Assam will participate.

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