"People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou
Anita Ratnam is a multifaceted personality and well-known in India and abroad. She is a scholar, choreographer,TV personality, cultural activist and importantly a sensitive dancer. Trained in the Bharata Natyam dance form from an early age, she is a dancer of exquisite grace and eloquence. Highly accomplished in Bharata Natyam and other classical Indian dances, she has developed her own style of contemporary dance form
influenced by theatre which she refers to as 'Neo Bharatam'. Her forte is her creativity, skill in infinite improvisations, passion, dedication and commitment resulting in an unique and balanced mix of song, dance and theatre. She is a woman of substance who did not give up her passion for dance after her motherhood. On the contrary, motherhood acted for her as a catalyst enabling her to further explore her innate creativity and talent for visualisation and imagery.
Last Sunday, Anita Ratnam gave a scintillating dance performance called "Circles of Love" at NCPA (National Centre for Performing Arts), Mumbai, on the occasion of the Mudra Dance festival 2014 being held from 24th to 30th April. The festival was centred around the subject of motherhood and its relationship with dance. In a breathtaking performance, Anita Ratnam kept the audience spellbound with her presentation of the various facets of motherhood projecting her own life as an example of intergenerational bonding of five generations - her great grandmother, grandmother, mother, herself and her daughter all of them symbolically represented by the famous Russian Matryoshka nested dolls, one smaller one emerging from the bigger one.
Anita Ratnam portrayed the roles of Devaki and Yasodha from Hindu mythology - one who gave birth to Lord Krishna but did not have the fortune to nurture Him and the other who lived on the other side of the Yamuna river and was lucky to tend to Him and take care of Him and enjoy His sports. The emotions of love and angst of these mothers were beautifully conveyed by Anita Ratnam. The SriVaishnavite mystic saint Aandal in her Thiruppavai had expressed how Lord Krishna was transferred from one lap to another. (Orutthi maganai pirandu, or iravil orutthi maganai ollitthu valazha). Born as a son to one woman and brought up as a son by another in secrecy. The depiction of Jabala and Satyakama from the Chandogya Upanishad were also poignantlly conveyed by Anita Ratnam. It is a touching story of Satyakama who had a burning desire to learn the Ultimate Truth (Brahman) but was initially disallowed to join the select group of students of higher caste and pedigree by Muni Gautama. When asked about his gothra, Satyakama had no answer. He rushed to his mother Jabala in tears who consoled him and asked him to tell the truth to the Muni that even she did not know who was the father. Impressed with Satyakama's honesty, Muni Gautama accepted Satyakama into his fold in the Gurukul lauding him for his truthfulness. "Dear Satyakama, honesty is the greatest virtue of a true Brahmin and I therefore accept you", said Muni Gautama.
Anita Ratnam exuded an aroma of deep spirituality in a language of visions, concentration and illumination. Like a humming bird darting between shadows, with her rhythmic body movements she conjured up different images. Her poise and grace together with strength, stamina, flexibility and agility of body and feet were a treat to watch. Her swiftness and grace captivated the audience. The dances were interjected with poetry on motherhood composed by famous national and international poets which were read out by poet Malavika Sanghvi. A seven decades old sari passed on to her by her mother was the subject of a dance very touchingly performed. Accompanied by Vedant Bharadwaj who sang an immortal Tamil lullaby which featured in a Tamil film of yesteryears was one of the highlights of the dance performance. The continuous and melodious background music was very pleasing to the ear.
Anita Ratnam refers to herself as a 'contemporary classicist' and an 'intersectionist'.These expressions clearly identify the genre of her dance form. It is modern yet rooted in history and culture. It addresses sensitive and other feminist and social issues creatively. As founder Director of 'Arangham'- a performing arts organisation to promote performing and visual arts of India, her dances are essentially to modern audiences who get spiritually enlightened and uplifted. She is a role model for budding young mothers who wish to continue dancing.
Her dances have an element of humour too. Like the modern dance with the red sari around her neck in which she refers to grandmoms, moms, supermoms and tigermoms with the last words "Mere paas Ma hai."
The finale of the dance performance was the symbolic presentation of rice and the clay pot. Dancing exquisitely, Anita Ratnam pours the rice on the ground with both her palms and places the 'kalasha' (clay pot) over the rice, the pot signifying sanctity and the rice signifying fertility.
"Janani janamabhoomischa swargaadapi gariyasi." Mother and motherland are superior to even Heaven says an old Sanskrit saying. Nothing could be truer. Thaai (mother), thaaimozhi (mothertongue) and thaainadu (motherland) are indeed very dear to Anita Ratnam.
How can one sum up such a phenomenal performance from the viewer's perspective? A splendid programme and a delightful thrill for the audience. It was a "Wow" experience.