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2001 DANCE CONFERENCE - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

THE INNER WIND BLOWS GUSTILY THROUGH KUALA LUMPUR
by Anita R Ratnam, Chennai


The first time I heard the name of Ramli Ibrahim was when my guru Adyar K. Lakshman spoke about his "new amazing student" to me in Madras... .. "He has learnt ballet from Australia and also Odissi and now wants to learn Bharatanatyam from me", Lakshman sir said proudly. Ramli's name is synonymous with a cult icon in Malaysia. From the customs officers at the airport, to taxi drivers and shop owners, his name inspires awe and respect. When I said that I was his guest, I received special attention wherever I went, even at a small sushi bar in the mammoth Mid-Valley Mall.

My guru Lakshman Sir would have been very proud. The day before I left for KL, I spoke to him and he conveyed his blessings to Ramli. GERAK ANGIN was the name given to SUTRA's month long festival and it means 'the inner wind' in Malay. In a country which is grappling with globalisation and the hovering censure of Islamic canons, Ramli's artistic journey has been fraught with peaks and troughs. In the new Malaysia of this century, SUTRA sends out a clarion call for the universality of the arts and the power of the artist to see life in 'violent clarity '..

Soon after, I left India for my adventure in the United States and soon forgot Ramli's name until one accidental trip to Kuala Lumpur in the early eighties when I was dragged by a family friend to watch a dance performance. There, I was transfixed because through the speakers floated the familiar voice of Lakshman Sir singing all my favourite dance items... Todaya Mangalam, Chidamabar Natesa Kauthuvam, Nandi Chollu (composed by the late mridangist and Mohiniattam guru Trichur P. Ramanathan), Hindolam Tillana . It was as if I was back in dance class again! The vision on the stage was pure gold.. a satiny body swathed in amber light and moving his torso with both abandon and extreme control. "This is Ramli Ibrahim. He is our most famous dancer", whispered my host.

Since then, Ramli and I have maintained a sort of 'sympatico'. Meeting in the most unlikely of places, Chennai, New York, London... We have watched each other perform and have remained in touch. When he established SUTRA in his home town of Kuala Lumpur, I would receive his excellent visual publicity and always show it to my graphic designer as to how I wanted ARANGHAM's own print materials to look like.

In December 2000, Ramli and his company participated in our THE OTHER FESTIVAL in Chennai and it was there he saw the unusual artistry of Canadian dance-artist Peter Chin and French sacred singer Dominique Vellard. An improvisation which developed on the spur-of-the-moment between Chin and Shakuhachi flautist Christopher Yohmei Blasdel was also carefully noted by Ramli who was planning a similar event in Kuala Lumpur.

For almost two years, the SUTRA center in KL was under renovation and in June 2001 a brand new multi-arts complex was revealed to the KL public. Using inexpensive material from the local forests and wood merchants, as well as discarded pieces of furniture ingeniously redesigned by painter/ stage designer Shivah Natarajah, the new SUTRA center now held a beautiful amphitheatre for performances.

To proudly announce the new SUTRA center and to establish the performing and the visual arts as vital within the model of modern Malaysia, Ramli announced a month - long festival throughout the month of July. Over four weekends he had invited a combination of visual and performing artists from India, Japan and Malaysia to perform and share their ideas to a small, but very interested audience.

I was invited for the second week of the festival... The SUTRA festival included evening performances and morning forums which provided insights into working and creative processes and the many issues which surround the creation, discussion and sustenance of the arts. I had the honour of opening the forum with the keynote presentation called NEW DIRECTIONS IN INDIAN DANCE. Not a new title but my presentation included a short overview of the historical underpinnings and proceeded to include a highly personalised impression of contemporary dance directions in India as seen and experienced through my own career. I ended the 90 minute session with a short dance titled UNRAVELLED which deals with the inner demons of a classical dancer. For me, forced to conform within the structures of harmony, symmetry, beauty and order, UNRAVELLED was my early rebellion of trying to portray the inner presence of the 'dark shadow' that constantly haunts me.

...Ramli's name is synonymous with a cult icon in Malaysia. From the customs officers at the airport, to taxi drivers and shop owners, his name inspires awe and respect. When I said that I was his guest, I received special attention wherever I went, even at a small sushi bar in the mammoth Mid-Valley Mall.

My guru Lakshman Sir would have been very proud. The day before I left for KL, I spoke to him and he conveyed his blessings to Ramli. GERAK ANGIN was the name given to SUTRA's month long festival and it means 'the inner wind' in Malay. In a country which is grappling with globalisation and the hovering censure of Islamic canons, Ramli's artistic journey has been fraught with peaks and troughs. In the new Malaysia of this century, SUTRA sends out a clarion call for the universality of the arts and the power of the artist to see life in 'violent clarity '...


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