Anita Ratnam went back to her roots in `Neelam... ,' built on Vaishnava bhakti.
Anita Ratnam's morning performance and lecture as part of the Music Academy's Dance Festival was illustrative of how artistes transform their earliest experiences into contemporary expression after viewing them through the prism of their subsequent encounters. Trained in hoary traditions of Bharatanatyam under Guru Adyar K. Lakshmanan and Sudharani Raghupathy, Anita spoke of her gradual development as a solo performer and her shift towards the dance theatre for which she is better known today. Her roots were evident in the extracts she performed from her latest production "Neelam... Drowning in Bliss."
Significant thoughtIt was not just the choice of Tamil lyrics, the Carnatic music and the Bharatanatyam base, but also the theme of "adoring the Lord: Sriman Narayan" and the reference to her ancestral village where Ramanuja is said to have revealed the eight syllables "Om Namo Narayanaya."Anita represents a significant stream of thought in Indian classical dance today: one which gives importance to the ritual and devotional tradition but which requires to internalise, in a sense, that tradition before performing it, to create art true to the self. She hinted at this when she mentioned that after a 12-year hiatus from the stage while away from India, she knew, by the time she returned, she could not remain a solo performer of the margam as before. "Neelam... " offered some highly aesthetic segments, like the verses from Nachiar Tirumozhi, "Sri Andal - The Chant of Goda" performed using a low stool functioning as a seat as well as a pedestal. The brass bells and lamps suspended at varying heights in a circle above the stool caught the light beautifully, though with so many shadows thrown on the dancer's face, at times the mukhabhinaya was lost. "Priye Charusheele," performed on a narrow diagonal path lit up by a stark beam of light across the stage, was riveting in its simplicity.
Stage space, integral partThe choreographic pattern of the diagonal line served as an effective abstract image of Krishna's supplication and his longing for Radha. Perhaps because such a stage design is rarely exploited in Indian classical dance compared to the fully lighted rectangle or the spot lit circle, this device highlighted, better than the others, her philosophy that the shape of the stage space is an integral part of the expression. The lighting design was by the dancer and executed by Victor Paulraj. Anita's work is not always easy to understand at a literal level, but triggers thought processes, which is one of the purposes of art. "Neelam," built on a cultural landscape of Vaishnava bhakti familiar to most in the audience, would create different resonances there even without too much explanation. Aided by sound design and visual aesthetics, the production evokes a meditative rather than a virtuoso atmosphere, which in a competition-ridden world, is refreshing. The performance was sustained by wonderful musical support from singers Sikkil C. Gurucharan, O.S.Arun and others on a recorded soundtrack. The concept and choreography of "Neelam" are Anita Ratnam's, whose choreographic consultant is Hari Krishna of inDance, Canada.