She chose the road less travelled. “It was not a difficult choice to make,” says Anita Ratnam, explaining why she chose to make contemporary dance her career, instead of Bharatanatyam, in which she got trained from childhood.
She still enjoys watching a traditional Bharatanatyam recital, if it is by a gifted dancer like Malavika Sarukkai. “And you could see certain aspects of Bharatanatyam in my dance too, but I stopped performing Bharatanatyam in its pure form long ago; when Bharatanatyam stopped conversing with me, I stopped doing it,” says Anita, who was in Kozhikode recently to perform in Soundarya Lahari, a four-day festival of contemporary dance organised by the State Information and Public Relations Department.
She has no regrets about ceasing to be a Bharatanatyam dancer. “I know my kind of dance would appeal less to a Western audience; they prefer a classical Indian dancer, who is more exotic — an Asian Barbie doll,” she says. “But I do not want to dance just for foreigners,” she adds.
But Anita has staged many successful productions abroad too. She performed in Kozhikode shortly before her trip to London.
At Kozhikode, she had danced excerpts from her different shows. “I wanted to show the audience here the variety of my productions,” she says.
Two of her favourite women from Indian mythology, Sita and Shoorpanakha, graced the stage at Kozhikode. “Shoorpanakha, I have found, is not merely a demon. As for Sita, I believe every Indian woman is Sita. What a fascinating, strong woman she is,” says Anita.
Her latest production about Sita. ‘Million Sitas,' premiered recently, is also about other women from ‘Ramayana,' like Ahalya, Manthara, Shoorpanakha and Sabari. “My Sita is not submissive or weak, but she is a woman who has made her own choices in life. She chose to marry Sri Rama and insisted she would accompany him to the forest.”
Anita says it was by sheer accident that she turned to contemporary dance, or neo-Bharatam, as he terms it. “I had danced to poems by A.K. Ramanujan at a small function which was paying homage to the poet; I had worn a ‘practise sari’ and thin anklets on my feet,” she recalls. “I did use a few steps from Bharatanatyam, but my style was not at all dictated by the grammar of classical dance. I enjoyed the show and I found out the small, but knowledgeable audience also enjoyed it.”
She then began to do more elaborate productions and her dance was found acceptance. “I was delighted to see that many young male dancers wanted to join my production,” she says. Anita had a successful innings on television in the United States. “I enjoyed being a producer and anchor,” she says. She made her debut in Tamil cinema through Kandukonden Kandukonden. But she did only one cinema after that. “I can do a film only if the character excites me, but I am a huge film buff,” she says.
“I love watching all kinds of films and I am amazed by the skills of actors like Mohanlal. And I feel a lot of excellent choreography happens in films.”