With vistas so wide
Anita Ratnam believes in taking dance beyond the entertainment level and appealing to the intellect, writes RANEE KUMAR
Photo: R. Shivaji Rao
Dance divine Danseuse and cultural activist Anita Ratnam
It calls for a lot of fortitude and a lot more dedication to honour a commitment, leaving behind a mother virtually on her death bed. Anita Ratnam was not all happiness personified when she came down to the city to perform for one of Sangeet Natak Akademi’s prestigious dance series. Nor did she wear her sorrow on her sleeve. Her composure was commendable as she diligently went through her premier production, Framing Five reflecting the five elements (Panchabhoota) of nature that are inherent in human body too in almost all religions and cultures across the world.
“Right now, my mother is trying to balance the five elements within her. She is in her last stage. And I am here premiering my new presentation for this festival,” said Anita in a tone suffused with emotion. Within 24 hours of the interview, her mother “her first and vociferous critic,” breathed her last.
“Though I am a Bharatanatyam dancer, I have moved on to doing something original and innovative. The theatrical element has crept into my productions. The 70s and 80s were experimentation stage for me. Now I tend to see my productions in their entirety. It cannot be mere dance without so many more aspects, so relevant to communication, breathing life into it. My mother used to say that my dance is not ‘entertaining.’ Well, I told her once that I don’t consider myself an entertainer. She was right in a way, whatever be the public performance it is meant as an entertainment to people. It’s how you see your work of art and how you want it to be viewed.”
Anita belongs to a different league. Her productions appeal to the intellect. There is a totality about them — they convey more than just a story performed aesthetically to perfect classical technique. They have all these elements plus a lot more. The gamut of expression is not confined to a single culture.
Like for instance her Framing Five. It would have been lost on the ordinary viewer. But then a work of art — not just a dance performance — appeals to a class of people. Though theoretically performing art ought to reach the common man too, well as Anita rightly describes herself, ‘she is not an entertainer’ nor is her work directed towards entertainment.
It is directed towards an analytical mind, it makes for an universal appeal. It has its roots in Indian classical soil no doubt, but it embodies a collective conscience.
The theory of Panchabhootas termed as Framing Five is in itself deeply philosophical. It defies cultural boundaries. So Anita worked into the presentation a number of images drawn from diverse religions and traditions, like Christianity (Pentacle), Islam (the five pillars of the religion), Buddhism (last and 5th incarnation), Chinese, Tibetan traditions not to talk of Hinduism where the figure five is mystical and represents so many layers of the ethnic religion, human and nature. “Trying to fit in so many motifs symbolising the vital five within a time frame of 40 minutes was a task. I hope I did justice,” says the dancer in all simplicity.
Coming back to Anita, the person, she is just on the verge of getting her doctorate in women’s studies (thesis on 13th century temple rituals by women). Her vistas are far and wide – like wanting to bridge the crisis in culture coming up now through creative solutions. Above all, she says “motherhood bestows us with a balance. It makes you think of somebody other than yourself. And that keeps the egoistic trips at bay,” she signs off.
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